The Value of a Phone Call
f you read this week’s New York Times’ “Sunday Styles,” you probably came across Pamela Paul’s article Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You from yesterday’s issue. In the article, Paul denounces the utility of the old-fashioned phone call, citing Nielsen statistics that illustrate decreased voice spending and increasing text spending. Beyond its alleged disutility, Paul states, “Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward.”
At first read, the article is disconcerting to anyone interested in building relationships, like those of us in the PR business. But business people and PR professionals can take solace—while there are some lessons to be learned from Paul’s words, the telephone is far from obsolete or undesirable. In fact, the phone call remains the most personal form of mediated communication and a valuable tool in building relationships.
There’s no doubt that vocal communication can convey more than texting or emailing. Vocal intonation can convey timidity, conviviality, aggression, or, if you’re lucky, charm. But none of it matters if every person you speak to hangs up on you before you can introduce yourself, or, worse, doesn’t pick up the phone at all.
Luckily, there are a few guidelines you can follow to ensure that your phone calls establish a good rapport between you and the journalist, and it all comes down to good manners:
- Firstly, as soon as they pick up the phone, tell them who you are and why you are calling. But make it very brief.
- After your brief introduction, ask if it’s a good time to talk. If they’re busy, which is often the case, you should ask them to suggest the best time to call back.
- You should let the reporter know that you are familiar with his or her publication or with the kind of work he or she writes. It doesn’t hurt to mention one specific piece.
- Then, take a minute to explain the story idea, and why it is relevant to her publication’s audience. Be prepared with talking points—babbling will get you nowhere.
- Finally, ask if the reporter is interested. If not, thank her for her time—you may call her again in the future. If she is, set up another time to discuss the story details. Either way, you should ask what time of day and in what manner she wishes to be reached.
Remember, not every pitch is a success. But every attempted pitch can be used to build relationships that will be essential to future successes.