This is a guest post by Lindsay Goldwert, a New York-based media pro who balances journalism and PR.
The age of “smile and dial” PR is over.
Today’s journalist does not have the time or inclination to listen to your rehearsed pitch on the phone. My colleagues who still work in the newsroom are underpaid, overworked, strapped to their desks trying to churn out breaking news or stuck with their heads down, desperate to finish reporting a longer feature. Many online journalists are one-person bands–writing, editing, grabbing photos and producing their own stories.
Imagine you’re working at your desk and someone calls to tell you all about something you don’t care about or don’t have time to deal with. Then they call you again. Contrary to what you may believe, this is not an effective PR tactic. It’s annoying, ineffective and will not gain you any favors with a journalist who is already juggling deadlines.
With few exceptions, the cold call is a journalist’s worst nightmare. Even if you’ve been handed a media list with a journalist’s phone number on it, I would advise strongly that you never, ever use it.
Here are the rare exceptions.
1. You have a personal relationship
This doesn’t mean you gave them your card at SxSW. I mean they’re in your phone as a true colleague or friend. You two have a mutually beneficial relationship where you both have a history of helping each other out, either professionally or personally. If the journalist is likely to say, “John, who? Oh… hi,” then you don’t have this kind of relationship, sorry. One of my dearest friends is an editor at a major tech site and she has asked me to just email her. We know many of each other’s deepest personal secrets and even she doesn’t want me to call.
2. You’ve worked successfully together in the past
When I was at the New York Daily News, there were two PR people whose calls I was delighted to receive. The rest were just bothering me. These PR pros never stalked me or called multiple times. They always pitched me stories on my beat and were lovely to work with. Does this journalist greet your calls with relief? If a journalist hasn’t told you “You are the only PR person I don’t despise” or the equivalent, then don’t even consider calling.
3. You have huge news
Is Apple about to buy Google? Is the CEO of a major auto company about to step down? Are you about to announce a class action lawsuit against a major pharmacuetical company? Those are big stories and you may consider calling the correct reporter to offer them the exclusive news before 9am. Here’s what’s not huge news: Dr. Oz endorsing a new cleanse. Khloe Kardashian wearing a certain brand of jewelry to an awards show. A new line of hats that comes with a ponytail attachment. A new app of some kind. If you must pitch these stories, pitch them to the right editors via email. Do not call.
4. You’re pitching TV/radio
Some media industries still rely on the phone. TV and radio, for example, may still have dedicated departments with bookers and producers who are interested in your pitches for quick turnaround stories.
Look, I’ve been on both sides—I’ve been journalist who’s yelled at PR people for pitching me stories that I would never cover in a thousand years and I’ve been a PR professional who has been strongly encouraged to use the phone. I get it: you’re under a lot of pressure to land those hits.
But before you start dialing, take a good look at your pitch and ask yourself honestly: is this worth interrupting an already overworked person in the middle of his/her day? It’s best to be honest with yourself and your client before you alienate the journalist… which defeats the whole purpose of media relations.
Lindsay Goldwert is a writer living in NYC. Before going freelance she worked at the NYDailyNews.com, ABCNews.com, CBSNews.com and others. She’s written for Fast Company, Mediabistro, Slate and others.