7 Tips to Navigate Journalists’ “Do-Not-Call” Rule

Effective public relations is a combination of writing and communications skills, which sometimes means breaking the rules.

Many reporters and editors specifically request NO PHONE CALLS. That order is usually followed by “If I like your story idea, I’ll respond to your email.

”Unfortunately, most reporters’ inboxes are overflowing and it’s highly unlikely they’ll even find my well-written email pitch buried under their hundreds of daily emails.

The best way to get their attention is by picking up the phone and calling. That tactic was the subject of some pretty colorful commentary by my friend, journalist Matt Villano, who writes for respected media such as the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and many national outlets. Matt was recently profiled in BestPitchIEverGot.com.

…any journalist or editor who tells PR professionals NEVER TO CALL or NEVER TO EMAIL is an absolute idiot. I’ll say it again: If you know or work with an editor who gets on his (they’re usually men) soapbox about how you should never do this or do that, IT’S OK TO DISLIKE THAT PERSON BECAUSE HE OR SHE IS ON A POWER TRIP AND DESERVES YOUR IRE. I can’t tell you how many people I know who fit this description. Not only are these people just plain dicks, but they’re probably costing themselves dozens (it not hundreds) of worthwhile story ideas in the process.

I agree with Matt.

Journalists are missing out on opportunities to feed the news beast, keep their editors happy, and (for freelancers) develop stories that help boost their income. So I call them on the phone (if they’re numbers are listed in the database to which I subscribe), with the intention of being helpful to them. Try my media relations approach — I think you’ll get a receptive response, IF you’ve got a great story idea!

  • Avoid the BS and small talk in your calls and emails. Get right to the point and save time.

  • Make sure your topic is news, or is timed to a seasonal topic or a hot trend.

  • Don’t blast emails to reporters. Personalize your message, naming the titles of the columns they write and demonstrating that you’ve read their work, or even subscribe to the outlets they work for. Be relevant!

  • If they pick up the phone, your first words should be: “Are you on deadline?” If the answer is yes, tell them you’ll call back later.

  • If you get voicemail, leave a short message and tell them you have a great story idea and you emailed them an idea at 9:38 am. with a subject line like Black Friday Burnout timed to the holiday shopping season. If they are interested, they can easily find your email in their loaded inbox.

  • If they request an interview, DELIVER! I have had clients bail out of interviews. Failing to deliver the source you promise to a reporter is a mortal sin — you have wasted their time and they won’t pay attention to you next time.

  • Search your network to provide the expert source as promised, even if it means offering the interview opportunity to someone who is NOT your client!

Yes, I have done this a few times. If a reporter takes the time to talk to or call me looking for sources, I bring them the source. I want them to see how hard I work for them. The pay off is great — the reporter trusts you to come through and puts you on their speed dial — and HOW GREAT IS THAT!?.Plus that expert who isn’t yet your client is having new thoughts about the value of PR and is impressed by your media connections. Again, HOW GREAT IS THAT!?

Here are three recent news stories in which reporters asked for my help in finding experts.

The relationships built with these reporters started with a phone call a long time ago. Many, like Matt Villano, are now my friends.

Journalists often say they discourage calls because so many clueless PR people contact them with irrelevant topics, revealing the minimal effort they put into their pitching. Incredibly, some PR pros will respond to the rejection with: “Can you recommend another reporter who might be interested,” further revealing their laziness.

With reporters under great deadline pressures, I understand their frustrations. All I ask is that they remain open to getting calls from people like me.

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