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How Do Journalists View Follow Up Phone Calls?

Most journalists prefer receiving (relevant) PR pitches via email, but how do they feel about follow up calls? This has been one of the most popular topic suggestions on the blog to date, so I figured I’d take some time to explore the topic further. I’ve received feedback from more than 50 journalists so far, and here’s what I’ve found:

  • 76% of journalists are fine with follow-up calls, provided the information you’re pitching is relevant to their coverage area and/or is time sensitive in nature.
  • 12% of journalists hate you. Well, not really, but they hate follow-up calls and don’t think you should make them. If they think the information is interesting, they’ll call you.
  • 12% of journalists love you. Also not really, but they like PR professionals to follow up. Most in this group said they are overwhelmed with information and don’t want to miss information they may have skimmed over.

I was surprised by the variance in the responses. A high percentage of journalists are fine with follow up calls; I thought this would be the opposite. Then again, most of the journalists I talked to rely on quality information from the PR community for the stories they work on. There are dozens of journalists and bloggers I can think of that would chew you out if you followed up with them, it’s really a judgment call based on how well you know your information and the journalist you’re pitching.

How to Follow Up a Pitch

If your information is relevant and time sensitive, it’s okay to follow up. Particularly if you’re offering an exclusive to a journalist and need to know if they’re interested before going to plan B. In this case, it’s also fine to explain the details and your intentions, asking for a response within a reasonable time frame (24 hours is good these days). If your pitch or press release has marginal news value, forget about following up. It’s true, if the journalist is interested, they’ll call you sooner than later.

What About Following Up On Pitches Via Twitter?

Twitter can be more a more efficient and less disruptive approach to use for follow up. If you’re on good enough terms with a journalist – you’re following each other on Twitter – it’s probably safe to DM them when you send important information. If you’re not on that level with them, don’t do it. And I would recommend against using an @reply to do this, unless you want to get slammed in front of that journalist’s followers. PR Blogger covered the Twitter pitch follow up topic back in January, there is some good feedback there to review.

An Alternative Approach To Consider

I’ve always encouraged clients to setup an opt-in email list for journalists interested in their news. If you send your news to an opt-in list with any mainstream email marketing software (we use MailChimp), you can track deliverability, click-thru and even tie the results into Google Analytics (so you know what else a journalist is interested in on your website). If you use this approach, you can avoid having to make time-wasting follow up calls to confirm receipt of PR materials. You’ll know if your information was received, if it was read and if a journalist looked at additional information on your website. You’ll then be able to prioritize your follow up efforts based on which journalists are most interested in your materials. You can also provide some great insight into your reach with your PR materials using Google Analytics. I’m really surprised how many PR agencies and corporate communications departments don’t use this approach, it really boggles my mind.

Alternative PR Follow Up Thoughts to Consider

One journalist actually said follow up shows the PR professional cares about the story they’re pitching, or they’re desperate for coverage. The latter is not a justifiable reason to follow up. If you are passionate about the story, and you believe it’s a good fit for the journalist, you should follow up and be confident in your pitch. Don’t just ask the journalist, “Did you get my press release?” Pitch them your story in a convincing and efficient manner. Give them your elevator pitch. If you don’t know what an elevator pitch is, learn what one is and use it as a template for preparing for your follow up.

The bottom line? Don’t follow up for the sake of following up. Don’t half-ass your phone call and ask if they got the release. Know your subject matter and why it’s relevant for the reporter you’re covering. Try to have something of value you can offer just for that journalist, that you’re not giving to everyone else. That’s the best way to conduct a follow up call in my opinion.

(Photo Credit: the red phone by Nicolas Nova)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeDriehorst MikeDriehorst

    Great read/must read #PR RT @journalistics: How do journalists view follow up calls from PR pros? http://tr.im/nK5N (Journalistics)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/AlyssaBGold AlyssaBGold

    Interesting blog posting on how journalists view follow up to pitches. http://bit.ly/UdWPL Surprising that 76% say they don’t mind calls.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://www.anngibboncommunications.com ann gibbon

    In my experience, the follow-up call is critical, as many newsrooms’ IT systems automatically delete emails so their servers don’t get overloaded. So if you’re a busy editor (and have you ever met one who wasn’t?), you may receive God’s gift to pitching, have no time to read it, and find it gone the next day through the wonders (perils?) of automation.

    So, yes – follow up by phone.

  • Harriet Weinstein

    I think it is fine to follow up with a journalist you have pitched by email. However, the PR person should make the pitch brief and tell why it is relevant. Please, no more followups on the same pitch.

    Harriet Weinstein
    harrwein@sbcglobal.net
    203-353-8873 Tel.
    203-561-2426 Cell
    203-348-7928 Fax

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/tressalynne Tressa Robbins

    Jeremy, once again, I think you nailed it. I recently attended the (Bulldog) Media Relations summit in NYC and sat-in on several panel sessions led by journalists who were offering advice. I was amazed at the disparity in that advice – some said ok to follow-ups and some said never. It all boils down the old-school basic “do you homework.” Know what that journalist writes about. Know how your pitch fits into that and what you can offer him/her. Build a relationship from there.

  • http://www.dynamicbusiness.com Jen Bishop, Editor, Dynamic Business

    That is the crux of it: don’t follow up for the sake of following up. I probably fall into the 12% that HATE follow-ups, but at the same time, I understand why you do it.

  • http://mumbrella.com.au Tim Burrowes – Mumbrella

    Follow-up phone calls is the single biggest reason why I could never face moving from journalism to PR.

    But it’s also an absolutely necessary evil. Like most hacks, I’m sure, I get so many emails that no matter how hard I try, I miss stuff.

    Follow up calls have helepd get stuff in that otherwise wouldn’t have.

    So I respect PRs’ need to do it, but I’m just glad it’s not me havign to make that call.

    Cheers,

    Tim – Mumbrella

  • http://www.ArizonaNotebook.com Mike Padgett

    Follow-up calls from PR agencies are welcome. It keeps the relationship strong between the reporter and the PR rep, and it reminds the overworked reporter that there are more ideas and people waiting to be written about.
    If the idea isn’t interesting or doesn’t match the reporter’s beat, the solution is simple – be honest and tell that to the PR rep. Your honesty will be appreciated.

  • http://gainesvillepr.com/blog Brian Russell

    As a lapsed journalist, with experience in both TV and newspaper newsrooms, I can undoubtedly say I was shocked by the results.

    On reflection, though, I think it’s all in the delivery. Most, if not all, of the follow-up calls I’d receive as a journalist were for uninteresting stories. The PR folks, in my opinion, were pushing what I call favor-wasters (stories of no interest to anyone but the one or two small groups involved).

    Focus on the journalists’ TIPCUP, make sure you’re pitching to the right person, show them the story (don’t leave it to them to find the angle – they no longer have the time thanks to newsroom cuts), and follow up if you feel it’s warranted (it’s not a favor-waster and you’ve done the prior steps at an A level).

  • Lisa

    Agree with many of the results – as a senior editorial staff member, I personally loathe follow-up phonecalls, but generally because there’s a better person they could be directing them to (such as the stylist or writer who actually needs the material). I’m always impressed though if they’re pitching for a specific section in the magazine or have evidently been reading it (if they say they love it, they get points for flattery too!). Just don’t ring me to ask if I have any interest in a random product not related to our field. Overall I believe in the adage, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

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  • http://www.bethlgainer.blogspot.com Beth L. Gainer

    As a journalist, I find that it’s the other way around: I wind up calling PR companies in order to get information on a lead or a story. While I find PR companies often cooperative and friendly, I also find that when I need technical information or other specific information, it’s best to hear information from the original source.

    PR companies are hired to sell a certain product or service, whereas journalists are supposed to provide a balanced story that informs the public, so it seems the two groups are at cross-purposes. However, both PR agencies and journalists have jobs to do and need each other.

    Beth L. Gainer, author of “Calling the Shots,” as well as journalist for HUDSON’s Childrenswear Review
    http://www.bethlgainer.blogspot.com

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  • http://www.racetalkblog.com Ben

    Not all journalists like phone calls. During a panel today 6 of 6 journalists said not to call them: http://tinyurl.com/kwx7qc

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  • http://www.magmito.com Jennifer Iannuzzi

    I used to loathe MAKING follow-up calls in my early days. I remember flying into panic attacks at the thought of getting a journalist on the phone and then proceeding to fumble through my pitch. Years, experience and some wisdom later, I have no problem doing it so long as I’m excited about something and feel it has real value to the journalist. That always comes across well, no matter how busy the journalist is and how much he’s rolling his eyes on the other end of the phone at the beginning. I think journalists are way overworked and generally speaking, it’s starting to show in their stories. Company names and spokesperson names spelled wrong and in the case of one big-brand partner, what they actually DO misrepresented. So along with those follow-ups, if you do manage to sneak out some coverage, be sure to provide names, spellings and other key facts in a separate email. And journalists, please try to remember that you could have a first-timer on the line and be gentle :-)

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremyporter jeremyporter

    Thanks for the great comments everyone – this is the most active post to date in terms of comments. When talking about topics this, I can’t help but think about the similarities between PR and sales. In the case of follow up, would you send a prospective customer a letter about your products and leave it at that? If you did, you’d never get the sale. Follow up, while unpleasant for call recipient AND dialer, leads to success more often than not.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jeremyporter Jeremy Porter

    Sounds like a friendly bunch.