Is it ever a good idea to pitch by phone instead of email?

With email and social media taking over as the preferred channels for contacting media, the telephone pitch is rapidly falling out of fashion.

It’s not just PRs either – recent surveys have shown that less than 3% of journalists actually want you to call them.

But phone pitching has several unique strengths and, with a bit of preparation, can give you an important edge. It’s all about approaching the right person at the right time says media consultant and Henshall Centre trainer Ann Wright.

How similar is phone pitching to email?

With both, you need to be very targeted, build a relationship with the journalist in advance, and only make the pitch if you’ve got a good story.

Don’t just pitch willy-nilly to everyone! It sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t pitch a publisher who does romances to the Financial Times, but you might to the books page of Good Housekeeping. The more poor pitches you make, the more you’re going to irritate journalist, who’ll get tired of wading through your stuff.

Is phone pitching better than email?

Many journalists would say they prefer email, but frankly, that’s often just so they can ignore it! The benefit of phoning up is that it’s immediate, and it guarantees a response. Sometimes, you can explain your story more easily on the phone, and if you’re a persuasive person, you can really use that to your advantage.

Phoning up is immediate, and guarantees a response.

What are the downsides?

Phone pitches have to be timed right and much more targeted. You also have to be aware that it can be soul destroying. If you have to ring 20 journalists, half might not pick up, and the other half might be on a deadline and not want to talk to you. You have to try not to take it personally. Remember – it’s not about you.

When’s the most effective time to make a phone pitch?

You need to research your journalist’s rhythm and find out when’s the best time to call. It sounds basic, but when one of my friends was a producer for the 1 O’Clock news, people would sometimes try to pitch him at 1:10!

What should I expect from a phone pitch?

Journalists are busy, so if they seem rude, they probably don’t mean to. If they’re in the middle of writing a story, they don’t really want someone ringing them with something else. Practice being friendly and confident (something we do in my Media Pitchingcourse) and avoid being defensive or apologetic. Ask if it’s a good time and if they say no, respect that and find out when might be better.

How should I prepare for a good phone pitch?

Make sure you know your angle and have a really attention-grabbing top line. You’ll need to give the journalist all the tools they need to pitch their news editor, so anticipate all the questions you might get – the Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? – and make sure the answers are to hand. You won’t have the time to go and look for them mid-conversation like you would with email.

The rules are the same for every pitch – you have to try to warm them up and build a relationship beforehand.

What about calling to follow up on an unsuccessful email pitch?

This is difficult. If a journalist was interested, they probably would have contacted you. But from another perspective, they might not have been in touch because they missed your email. If you do want to contact them again, only do it if you are certain it would be a good fit for that journalist, and adopt a very light touch.

What about pitching via social media?

The rules are the same for every pitch – you have to try to warm them up and build a relationship beforehand. Don’t just comment “I’ve got a great story for you!”. Follow them ahead of time, and add value to what they’re doing by praising their stories and commenting on what they post.

Journalists also use social media for research. If there’s a big news story, like disaster relief, they will be looking for new angles by checking hashtags, so use them wisely and creatively.

What’s your top tip for media pitching?

Practice in advance so that by the time you’re making your first call, you’ve honed your pitch to a quick, direct, short couple of sentences. Practice makes perfect.

Come along to my Media Pitching Workshop, and you can practise your pitches in a safe space. We’ll talk about how to create a compelling story quickly, go over ways of dealing with difficult journalists and tackle nerves.

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