I remember those days in the Big Apple pitching heaps of reporters during the mid to late 90s. It was often a tense moment on the phone because once the reporter realized it was a PR pitch, you could actually feel the frustration.

It was a different time then – the economy was booming and fresh new companies were all the rage. Windows 95 was released by Microsoft, the US Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian Mir space station for the first time, and the DVD was introduced. Faxes were still popular, but those monochrome green computer screens were considered passé. Email was very much a part of the mix, but good ol’ phone pitching was the leading tactic.

Today, most public relations transactions are conducted via email and social media – which makes sense. But now the connections are not as meaningful as they once were. The human reality is: speaking creates relationships far greater than electronic transactions alone. 

But here’s the hard truth: reporters won’t take your calls because they simply don’t like you.

That’s it. They despise you because the sound of your voice makes them cringe. But, it’s also because you failed to establish an initial rapport with them through email and social media channels. The fact is: before you call, they need to know who you are. And when you do call, you need to bring your “A” game.

Back in the 90s, PR experts spent a ton of billable hours crafting messages to lure reporters into believing that the clients they represented were simply better. Much of this was conducted over the phone. And, guess what? It worked. But it was a temporary bump in the evolution of PR as traditional and new media methods were divided by developing technologies. What we’ve all learned since then is that it’s not about selling at all – it’s about being helpful regardless of the communication platform. But, when the vocal approach is wrong and no connection is made prior to the call, nothing you say will matter.

The Wall Street Journal article, “Is This How You Really Talk?” provides an interesting perspective on how your voice affects others’ perceptions. According to the article, “the sound of a person’s voice strongly influences how he or she is visualized. In fact, this sound matters twice as much as the content of the message, according to a study of 120 executives’ speeches by Quantified Impressions, an Austin, Texas, communications analytics company. Researchers used computer software to analyze speakers’ voices, then collected feedback from a panel of 10 experts and 1,000 listeners. The speakers’ voice quality accounted for 23 percent of listeners’ evaluations; the content of the message accounted for 11 percent. Other factors were the speakers’ passion, knowledge and presence.”

Things to avoid when speaking to reporters over the phone include uptalk, the act of pronouncing statements as if they were questions and vocal fry, ending words in a raspy growl. Both of these will make the journalist think that you’re in pain – and that distracts from the message. Yet, boatloads of marketers have been violating proper verbal communications tactics for years – not because they’re out to destroy the profession, but because they’re oblivious to the issue.

So, now more than ever, reporters are simply not answering their phones for countless marketers. Let’s face it, we live in a bloated information age and reporters have lost all patience for irrelevant pitches. They have mounting pressures, limited time, and a very low tolerance for bad media relations folks. You know – those people (no one reading this blog of course) that don’t understand the nuances of what a publication or reporter covers, have never even read the publication, and really have no clue about how what’s being pitched connects with the readership.

Keeping in touch with reporters via social media and email is an important precursor to phone contact. But what and how you communicate via these platforms determines a reporter’s likelihood to correspond with you in the future. The key is to show genuine interest in what a reporter writes about, offer commentary, and be a resource on a consistent basis.

Simply put: make them like you.

While email and social media channels are the main lines of media contact today, it doesn’t mean you should dismiss phone contact altogether. Phone follow-up at the right time with the right tone and information, can produce instant success and establish stronger relationships. Remember, a reporter is always looking for insights and is more than happy to get it from a brand representative as long it’s relevant and isn’t overly promotional.

(Header image by www.fitsnews.com)