Why I Still Believe in Calling Reporters — and Why You Should Too. Plus, Tips on How to Reach Reporters Effectively

As far back as my first PR job, my bosses preached that the best way to reach a journalist was to just pick up the phone and call. At that time, your options to contact journalists were dialing the office phone, sending a fax or writing a letter (can you imagine?). The office phone was the most immediate and direct mode of communication, so calling journalists became part of my regimen as a PR professional in the 20th century. 

That was then. What about now? 

Do PR People Call Reporters Anymore?

Ever since email, direct messaging and social media hit the mainstream, I have heard – and wondered – this question time and time again. Even more so now that fewer journalists are working in offices, and those who do may not use the office phone. And don’t get me started on the difficulty of getting publicized phone numbers. Recently, the question surfaced in my mind again after reading a Wall Street Journal report, The Workers Who Do Everything on their Phones—Except Answer Calls.

So what’s the deal? Are PR people still calling reporters? Maybe not as many as 15, 20 years ago, but yes, the smart ones are still making those calls. And despite the hoops you have to jump through to get journalists’ phone numbers now, I assure you it pays to call them. 

Read on to learn about the benefits of calling journalists and tips on how to do it effectively.

Why You Should Call Reporters

With today’s ever-shrinking newsrooms — and attention spans — pitches are easily buried and forgotten in reporters’ email inboxes. Calling is the best way to learn what they’re working on and how you can help. Regular dialogue will help you find out if they received your pitch and if they’re interested in covering your client’s story. Plus, it takes mere minutes when you can reach them directly.

But wait — do reporters even want to be called? 

Most likely, yes, but only if you can prove you are helpful, know their beat and are cognizant of their deadlines. (See my tips on winning reporters’ favor — and a spot on their speed dial list.

It’s amazing how many times a reporter has thanked me for following up on a pitch or reminding them of an event via phone. It’s even more amazing how many times calling has saved my clients from missing key local TV and paper coverage for their events. That’s why I treat journalists’ phone numbers as my most valued currency as a PR professional. You should, too.

How to Reach Journalists By Phone

Unless you’ve worked with a reporter who’s volunteered their phone number or you’ve miraculously found it on a media database or website, it can be tricky to obtain those golden digits. But it’s not impossible. Let’s walk through a couple of scenarios and how to handle them for the best results:

Scenario 1: The Full-Time Staffer

This journalist reports to an office and likely has access to a work phone when not working from home. They may also be contacted via their newsroom’s main line.

How to Reach Them:

If you can’t find their office number in their outlet’s online staff directory, try the newsroom number (it’s usually on the same page). Once you call the main line, dial the extension for the staff directory or ask the newsroom receptionist to be connected to the reporter you want.

If they respond, make sure to be brief and tell them the subject line of the email pitch you sent so they can locate it easily in their inbox. Then, share your phone number and email address so they can get back to you. If they don’t respond, leave a voicemail with the same information. In some (rare) cases, you may have to leave your message with the receptionist or other staff who answer the phone.

Scenario 2: The Freelance Journalist

This reporter works remotely and writes for several outlets. They do not have an office phone number, but they likely have a personal website with different ways to contact them.

How to Reach Them:

Check Google or the freelancer’s social media bios for a link to their website. If you’re lucky, they’ll have their phone number listed there. But if not, your best bet is to fill out their website’s contact form, as they regularly check submissions for new clients and news tips. 

In either case, follow the same protocol we recommend for the full-time staffer. If the freelancer responds positively to your contact form message, ask for their phone number so you can remain a helpful source to them (and them to you!).

The Bottom Line

Picking up the phone is still the best way to follow up with journalists once you’ve sent off your first email pitch. And if you prove you’re a helpful source, they’ll often thank you for it! 

When you get your hands on their phone numbers, treat them as your most valued PR possessions. Always, always, store them somewhere secure and organized for later reference, such as a spreadsheet. If you have a working relationship with a few reporters, add their numbers to your phone. A phone directory with your favorite reporters can be a godsend when you’re working under tight deadlines!

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