The silence of the media recognition you crave, is just part of the landscape unless you are smart enough to change it. Six Tips For Reporter Follow-Ups That Get Publicity.
The Press Release Is Out & Time To Follow Up With Reporters;
To Call Or Not To Call?
If you work at or own a public relations agency, are starting a new business, expanding an existing one, introducing a new product or something else that you believe is newsworthy you will have written and distributed your press release. Now what? Why isn’t my release on the front page of the paper, the top of the web site or page 1 of Google? Why isn’t the phone ringing?
If you are a public relations veteran, then this is nothing new for you. The silence of the media recognition you crave is part of the landscape, but it does not have to be. If this is all new to you, hold on. Just because the phone isn’t ringing or the computer vibrating off the desk with pick-ups does not mean that your release was not well received. It probably was, or maybe it wasn’t. So here’s the deal with following up with reporters.
We’ll Call You
Every reporter you will ever speak to about “follow up” from a public relations person will tell you that if they are interested in your release, they will call you. When they tell you that, they probably really believe it. But we all know that in reality this is not true. Consider the sales person.
If selling was easy and did not entail a lot of follow up, no one would ever need to make a sales call. Because, if you follow the string of logic that says “if I’m interested I’ll call” you can just wait by the phone for all those calls from prospective customers, right? Similarly, if a reporter will call when or if they are interested then that phone will start ringing any second now, won’t it. Of course not.
What our reporter friends really mean is, that they do not want calls from people who do not have anything meaningful to them. Reporters also do not want calls about topics they do not cover, because it wastes their time. Any reasonable person would acknowledge the reasonableness of this desire. Sound reasonable? Of course it does. But I still do not know what to do. I’m supposed to make follow up calls, aren’t I. Yes, but read these tips first.
Calling Tips For Follow Up With Reporters
- Don’t be stupid. Calling a reporter to ask if they received your e-mail, is it stuck in your spam folder, would you like me to resend it, etc. are just annoying and pointless. The e-mail is working fine. A call like this will earn you the label of amateur, and you do not want that. You might as well call and ask “whatcha doin’?”
- No breeze testers. If you call a reporter after a release is out and say you are putting out feelers or testing the wind or testing the waters about what you already wrote and sent it signals to the reporter that: you did not think about this topic very hard until you pressed send, not knowing if it was newsworthy or not; and you have no idea who you are calling or why or what they actually report on. Would you call the sports writer to ask if he/she were interested in a story about predicting the weather? Of course you would not. So why are we (public relations people) put off when we call the new technology editor to discuss a story idea about crime prevention and he or she hangs up on you? Would you ask the plumber to work on your teeth? So resist the urge to call about feelers or to circle back or see if the e-mail works or not. All these tactics are pointless and a waste of everyone’s time and your company or client’s money.
- Do some homework. Before you sit down to make those calls, look at the background or “beat” that individual covers. Read, watch or listen to some of their stories first and know in advance whether or not there is a chance of any interest on the other end of the phone. If your client is peddling a new software solution for pet trainers and the reporter or blogger has never covered anything like this and for all you know does not even own a dog, the chances are good that this is not the person to call. Past is often prologue. On the other hand, if the writer/reporter has a column called “Pet Scene” and is known to volunteer at the SPCA, you’ve got a shot of getting a returned call and maybe even an interview. Again, past is often prologue.
- Put the coffee down. I get annoyed with public relations leaders who treat the follow call and the follow-up callers like boiler room telemarketers. A call to a reporter need not remind us all of Glengarry Glen Ross. Mitch and Murray from downtown did not send you. So allow your people the time needed to research those reporters and find the ones you at least have a chance of placing a story or scheduling an interview. This is a better approach than making a barrage of calls that all go to phone mail and are never returned.
- Go slow to go fast. This is one of my favorite phrases because while it sounds counter-intuitive, it is not. While you are researching the best places to make those pitch calls, the hours slip by. The boss is annoyed because you are not on the phone. You have made no placements. But the value of the research comes later when you make calls to those who report on and have a demonstrated interest in your release. No doubt there will be more interviews, more column inches, more awareness and calls to action because you took the time to find the right people to talk to and congratulations to you when you are the boss instead of the Alec Baldwin wannabe from downtown.
- Add worth. By making a more thoughtful approach to your reporter follow up, you added value. You made the reporters’ job easier because you introduced him/her to a story that will resonate with the audience he/she reports to. You did not waste his/her time with a pointless call. You did not waste the company or agency’s time and money by making silly calls nor did you exhaust yourself with this pointless exercise. Finally and most importantly you contributed to the reputation of your company or client. Those results will show up as added business because of the thoughtful approach you took. Well done!