Often seasoned PR pros neglect the most useful tool when phone pitching that perfect story: the phone call itself.
The anxiety of successfully implementing phone pitching is a real problem in PR, mostly because it’s related to rejection.
What if that mild-tempered journalist (albeit stressed) rejects my pitch straight up on the phone? Will my story idea stop them on their tracks and listen to me? What if they say it’s rubbish? If the answer is no, will they ever take any pitches from me again. Sure, phone pitching can be a minefield. But alas, MediaHQ are here to assist you.
Let’s face it, we all face rejection and it’s no fun. We actually fear it a lot. That fear can stall even the most seasoned PR pro and make them think they don’t have the value to pitch their story on the phone. J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame faced tons of rejections of her first book before she found a publisher. Think about it: If she had given up too soon, the world would never have seen this amazing book. It’s important to realise phone pitching can be a valuable tool in your arsenal.
So, let’s take a look at some strategies that will help you get over your anxiety of phone pitching to the media & beyond.
But first …
There are now more ways than ever to pitch your story to a journalist. You can fire them an email, direct message them on Twitter or hit them up with a LinkedIn mail.
However, using the phone is the way to go as you don’t spend hours agonising over whether or not a journalist has gotten your message—you get answers quickly and directly.
It doesn’t matter how well-prepared or diligent you are, pitching on the phone can be scary and that’s largely due to the brain’s ‘negativity bias’ which means we give more attention to negative thoughts than positive ones.
This means you’re far more likely to remember the time a journalist was rude to you than the pleasant conversations you’ve had (which–and I’d bet our media contacts database on this–probably outweigh the bad).
So, if you want to get ahead in the PR game, you’ve got to pluck up the courage and get calling. Rejection is just part of the job.
- The eight second rule of thumb
Want to know the secret of creating killer phone pitches? Pay attention to the way radio and TV presenters introduce stories that are coming up next or later in the show. They have seconds to give a compelling well formatted summary of the story that will encourage their audience to stick around (rather than reaching for the ‘off’ button).
Most of their longest summaries are around eight seconds and the shortest just five–but the ‘hook’ of the story is absolutely clear.
So when you’re planning a phone pitch, ask yourself the following question:
“If this story was going to be on a radio/TV show later today, how would the presenter introduce it…?”
Then summarise it…in less than eight seconds.
Or to put it another way, fill in the blank.
2. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that can ever happen?
Despite having a well stocked catalogue of best practices and top tips. Most PR professionals experience phone pitch anxiety because they are afraid of being embarrassed or getting an ear-full from the receiving end.
As long as you contact the appropriate journalist and acknowledge that you are interrupting their work, there is little reason for them to get angry with you.
Journalists sometimes seem short on the phone but that’s just because they are battling with looming deadlines. Often your mental tug-of-war with phone pitching anxiety may not be on their busy radar. They want the conversation to be brief and to the point.
Some journalists don’t like being contacted by PR pros. That’s fine. The worst they can do is tell you they are not interested and ask that you don’t contact them with any other stories. The absolute worst they can do is tell you to eff off.
3. Before you pick up the phone, write some notes
Very often, our apprehension about pitching over the phone is that we will stumble over our words or say something stupid. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail springs to mind. So prepare your pitch well.
Write a short note that contains all the points you want to make during the conversation, just so you can make your pitch. Don’t write a full blown script—another source of anxiety is pre-empting what the other person will say.
Remember, this is just a conversation. Obviously, there’s a purpose behind it, but journalists are human beings, not fire-breathing dragons (even the ones with the cheekiest columns).
4. Get your ‘story hook’ in early
When a journalist says they’ve got time to talk, don’t waste time on background or context–deliver your ‘story hook’ immediately (in eight seconds or less of course).
So the conversation might go something like this:
‘Hi, it’s Daniel from the Maths Teachers PR Association. Have you got a minute to discuss a story idea?’
‘Yes, I’ve got a few minutes.’
‘We’ve just done some research that shows that children born in the summer do worse in maths exams.’
‘Hi, it’s Daniel from Amazeballs PR. Have you got a minute to discuss a story idea?’
‘Yep, fire away.’
‘Well it’s about a fourteen-year-old boy with autism who’s already running his own million pound company.’
Obviously what makes a great ‘story hook’ will vary according to the publication or programme you’re pitching to and its audience but getting it in as early as possible in your pitch will vastly improve your chances of success.
5. If it goes wrong, so what?
Even the most hilarious, most schmoozy PR pro has messed up a pitch on the phone. Guaranteed, they have fluffed their pitch, forgotten what they were saying, been shouted at and had the phone slammed down in their ear at some point in their career.
The phone PR pitch is a skill that has to be honed like writing a killer press release. It doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes you’ll hit a winner, most times you won’t. The point is to keep trying and to learn from every failed phone call.
Your career won’t be ruined by one bad phone conversation. But you won’t be able to grow as a PR professional unless you start dialling those digits.
Now that you over that phone pitch anxiety, it’s time to put what you learned into action. Our MediaHQ contacts database holds over 6,000 Irish media contacts perfect for finding the right journalist to call. Click here for more information or call Gaye on (01) 2541845.