Wednesday, July 09, 2008

reporters say: bury that followup call

Last month, when I moderated the annual media roundtable for Washington Women in Public Relations, I opened asking the group to raise their hands if they were still calling reporters to see whether their emails, packets, or other information had been received--a practice reporters abhor, and one I've always avoided. One brave soul raised her hand, but as the questions came from the audience, the panel (reporters from the Washington Post, USA Today and US News & World Report) and I could see that, in fact, many in the audience not only continue the practice but wanted to defend it. Here's what we heard the media pitchers say about why they pester reporters with followups--and how the reporters responded:

  • My client really wants feedback about why the article idea didn't work. All three reporters agreed: That's not their job. I'd add that's exactly the role of a public relations adviser, who should know enough about the media outlet to have a few good ideas about why a pitch wasn't successful, including damaging a potential relationship by following up too much.

  • I don't think I'm doing my job well if I don't follow up to see if the information was received. This met with a lot of blank stares from the panelists, but the consensus was that reporters wouldn't call this a 'job well done.'

  • The editor told me this story would be assigned if he just had someone to cover it. Again, all panelists agreed: That editor was just saying no, nicely. If the story was worth doing, someone would be assigned to it.

Reporters have never liked these followup calls--typically, an attempt to get a 'foot in the door' to further a pitch. But with additional demands placed on reporters due to industry layoffs and expanding roles that include blogging and mulitmedia stories in addition to filing print reports, this panel tried to make the case that they'd have more time for creative brainstorming and even coverage if they weren't sorting through lots of messages about whether emails had been received. Made me think they'd have been almost resentful of the "Pitching to Bloggers" panel on which I spoke the week before, where all the panelists recommended not pitching to bloggers.


Joan Grangenois-Thomas said...

It's really great that these reporters were so forthcoming on their disdain for receiving follow-up calls. However, I have just come off from pitching an event in Chicago where most of the reporters/editors I got on the phone didn't recall seeing the email advisory but were very interested in covering or writing about the event. If I hadn't called, I wouldn't have received such a terrific media turn out.

So, which is it? Call or don't call? There isn't just one answer.
Some don't want email others don't want phone calls. It makes you wonder how do reporters get their story ideas if folks like me aren't able to contact them.

Denise Graveline said...

Well, reporters (and bloggers) are in the business of finding ideas for stories...and they do it by researching their topics. The web and the explosion of source information online make that job enough. But in fact, Joan, your point underscores the need to know which method your core reporters want. I also happen to think that followup calls work well for an event--but not if your only reason for calling is "did you get the packet."