The Phone Will Always Be Your Friend: Phone Pitching Strategies in Media Relations

September 12, 2016

modern workplace woman using mobile phone in office

Once a month, the DCI team gathers to discuss innovative strategies and best practices for pitching members of the media. These workshops provide an open forum for team members to share their pitching successes while collaboratively addressing the challenges of engaging media contacts in a rapidly changing, 24-hour news cycle.

Most recently, the DCI Denver team held a workshop focused on the art of phone pitching, a vital component of media relations that is critical to both securing interest from a story pitch and to building the great relationships we desire with members of the media. Though email has become a prominent tool in business, often replacing the need to pick up the phone, relationships built over the phone and in-person transcend the efficiency of the digital note, garnering higher quality, on-message coverage in the process.

While it’s clear that pitching styles vary among PR professionals, even among our own team members, the following are our top tips for phone pitching that DCI’s team of PR pros use to ensure phone calls with reporters are as successful as possible:

1. Setting the table

The most important work when conducting a phone pitch occurs before you even get on the line. The full pitch process consists of five steps: researching your story angle, drafting the pitch, selecting relevant media you plan to target, emailing the selected media, and finally, calling the media – though sometimes those last two steps may run in reverse. After executing these five steps, a pitch that hasn’t attracted media interest should either be re-written or shelved for another day when its timeliness or trendiness might elevate.

Succeeding with the final step in the process, weighs heavily on the work that occurs in the four preceding steps. Thorough research helps to ensure a strong detail-oriented story angle with timely information. A pitch that lacks a compelling storyline and a timely hook will not generate interest no matter how much time you spend on the phone, and you’ll only risk angering the media in the process.

In many cases, a reporter will respond to your phone call by requesting an email with more information on the story you called to discuss. As such, it is helpful to begin pitching with an email that the reporter can then refer back to after you have connected with them on the phone. An email pitch should be clear and succinct, presenting only the most compelling and relevant information on the topic you are pitching. Sending an email before phone pitching not only provides a reporter with an important reference for considering a pitch, but also shows that you have done your homework and are not simply cold calling reporters en masse.

2. Timing is everything

With the evolution of the 24-hour news cycle, reporters, now more than ever, work in a constant cycle of tight deadlines with little time to spare. Therefore, it is critical that you respect a reporter’s limited time when phone pitching. Calls made at 4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon will likely go unanswered, as reporters race to make end of day deadlines. Among DCI’s team of media relations leaders, 8 a.m.-12 p.m. are considered some of the prime hours for making phone calls to the media.

Some reporters have fixed deadlines each week; i.e. 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursdays. When building relationships with reporters, it is important to ask them about their reoccurring deadlines, noting them in your records, in order to determine the best time to call them. Additionally, by reviewing a reporter’s recent coverage, a PR pro can often identify potential times and/or date windows for making calls. For example, a reporter publishing three stories a day will likely only be interested in breaking news and will not have time to answer their phone. However, a reporter who typically publishes three stories a week will likely have an open window for taking pitches between their stories.

3. Executing On the Line

When it comes to interacting with reporters on the phone, many of the same rules of email pitching also apply. First, be succinct. A brief introduction should identify the client you represent and the headline of the story you are pitching in one sentence. Phone pitching, like emails, should be to the point and avoid long-winded recitation of data and proof points. After briefly introducing yourself, ask the reporter if they have a moment to speak  or if there is another time they would be available to connect. This shows that you are sensitive to a reporter’s limited time and deadlines. Following your brief introduction and their approval to proceed, it is best to pause and ask the reporter if this is a story they would be interested in covering before inundating them with any more detailed information or interview suggestions.

A reporter declining a phone pitch presents a chance to receive feedback on your pitch idea, or to uncover other story opportunities that might be a fit for your clients. For example, if a reporter indicates that the pitch does not align with their beat, you may ask if they have a colleague who would be a better fit for the story or if they have another story they are actively working on that might be an area where you could help. If the reporter simply isn’t interested in your idea, you may ask what would make the pitch more compelling or what they think it’s missing. Or by simply asking a reporter what they will be writing about in the future, you may be able to present a different story that aligns better with their coverage than your initial pitch.

4. Some of the Most Universal Do’s and Don’ts

The Do’s

  • Do practice; practicing with colleagues can help make phone pitching a more comfortable and effective process.
  • Do consult with colleagues: asking colleagues who they have personally phone pitched recently will help to avoid redundancy and garner insights.
  • Do allow time for reporters to respond to emails before phone pitching them; reporters receive a high volume of email pitches every day. Not allowing them the time to read your email and respond can be a major pet peeve.
  • Do personalize pitching; reading and referencing a reporter’s recent coverage and showing that you are familiar with their interests will make them far more receptive to your pitch.
  • Do build relationships with reporters; building strong relationships, remembering their preferences and their expectations, will similarly make reporters more receptive to your phone pitching.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t be too pushy; while it is okay to ask for feedback or suggestions for pitching colleagues, it is important to recognize that reporters often have good reasons for declining a pitch and objecting or undermining their response will ensure they ignore your call in the future.
  • Don’t leave voicemail; unless you have an existing relationship with a reporter, it is often difficult to clearly communicate a pitch via voicemail, with the high volume of calls and messages reporters receive each day, your voicemail is most likely to be “lost in the noise” and likely quickly deleted..
  • Don’t read from a script; when phone pitching, it is important to be agile and able to pivot to different angles if a reporter isn’t immediately interested. Using scripted talking points is not only constraining, it also makes conversation less personable and of far less interest to them.
  • Don’t call multiple reporters at a single outlet; this shows that you are more concerned with receiving coverage than building a mutually beneficial relationship with a reporter.

Want to share with us what you found helpful about this article or have any tips to suggest? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share your comments below or tweet us @aboutdci.

Alexander Armani-Munn

Written by Alexander Armani-Munn

Alex is an Assistance Account Executive for DCI’s Economic Development Division. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Northern Colorado and is currently completing a master’s degree in Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Colorado-Denver.

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