5 tips for phoning the press

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In previous blogs, I’ve talked about how to write a press release but what happens once it has been sent out? If you’re really lucky and you have a great story, the journalist may phone you.

However, in most cases, if you are looking for ways to get media coverage for your business, you’ll need to follow up your press release mail out with a phone call or two.

Having worked as a PR in book publishing for 12 years and as a national newspaper journalist for eight years, I’ve seen things from both sides of the fence. Ultimately, however, it’s about building good relationships – and it’s always helpful if the person doing the PR knows when to call, who talk to and what to say:

Here are five tips to help you along:

1. Don’t be nervous
Many people are scared witless about the idea of phoning a journalist. They think that journalists are frightening people, who doorstep, tap the phones and go through the bins of unfortunate celebrities and ordinary people who happen to be in the news.

However, most journalists are simply writers with space to fill. They want to hear about good stories, especially if you can provide a local angle for regional newspapers and images.

You may find standing up when you make the call helps you to feel more confident and it definitely helps to be prepared.

2. Prepare what you are going to say
Have your press release or other relevant information in front of you when you make the call so you don’t have to go searching round if the journalist asks you for details.

Write down a few key phrases to use. Cut them down to the shortest version possible and keep them in front of you.

3. Don’t waste their time
Journalists are busy people. If you’re not sure who to ask for, either phone reception first and find out or tell them in one sentence what you’re calling about and they will tell you if you need to speak to another desk.

Phrases journalists don’t want to hear include:

“I’m not sure if you’re the right person to ask about this but…”
(they’ll tell you if they’re not and you’ve just wasted your first 13 words).

4. Call at the right time
Don’t call a daily paper in the late afternoon when everyone is rushing towards deadline. Don’t call a Sunday paper on a Saturday unless it’s a breaking news story (and they probably won’t be there on the Monday).

For longer lead magazines, find out when their deadlines are. It may be a couple of months ahead of publication, so if you are promoting an event or product launch in November, it could be too late to phone in mid-October.

5. Be enthusiastic – but not too enthusiastic
A journalist will struggle to get excited about a story if you sound bored while you’re pitching it. Equally, you need to be professional and concise – don’t waffle on at length about how x is the best thing since sliced bread.

It’s also important to follow up your call. If a journalist is interested in your story, follow up immediately by sending through anything they ask for. If you’re sending pictures at a later date, remind them why you are sending them and that you’ve already had a chat with them about the potential coverage.

Finally, if your efforts result in coverage, drop the journalist a quick email to say thank you. It doesn’t take much effort and will be appreciated – it will also help them remember you next time you call them to pitch a story.

For more information on press releases, web content, blogging and other copywriting issues, please see our Copywriting page.

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