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PR pitch blunders you don't know you're making: #2 the phone call

By Alistair Wilkinson Founder at The Media Room Ltd

Yesterday I outlined the key things you need to know about emailing your pitch to a journalist.
The next step is the follow-up call. Here are three things you need to know about that.
Reaching the right person
In every newsroom, there are a handful of decision-makers who press GO on coverage. If you're pitching yourself you need to find out who they are, preferably before you start the pitch process.
The best way to do that is to have contacts in newsrooms who help you understand it's eco-system. While there is a lot of turnover of staff and junior levels, leadership teams tend to be relatively stable.
You should foster contacts in journalism the same way you do every other contact in your business. There are all sorts of ways to engage with them and their work. Any self respecting reporter has a presence on twitter, so that is a good place to start. But, in my opinion, nothing replaces the face to face when it comes to building relationships.
Traditionally, producers have held all the editorial power in newsrooms, but that is beginning to shift as more journalists hold dual producer/presenter roles.
When you're recruiting someone to engage with the media on your behalf, quiz them about what is going on in the news organisations you want to target. If they don't know, alarm bells should start to ring.
If you are doing it yourself, and all else fails, simply call the newsroom and ask "who decides which stories you cover?"
You need to call IMMEDIATELY after sending your email. That will help the journalist register and focus on your pitch. 
There are good times of the day, and bad times of the day to call a newsroom. Those times are specific to the organisation, it's workflow and deadline patterns. For most newsrooms, mid-morning is a good time to call with non-urgent pitches. It's after the assignments have been allocated for the day, but before midday deadlines.
Do not call in the hour leading up to flagship shows (like TV news bulletins) unless it's an urgent pitch. Do not call in the 8am to 10am window.
Before you call, check what's actually going on with the news agenda. If there is a big story breaking, the senior producers who make the story calls will be busy managing their coverage. Don't call during this time. It makes you appear out of touch.
A well-connected communications person knows how different newsrooms work, and will advise you on the best approach for your pitch. They'll also advise on what to say.
What to say
Please, whatever you do, don't open your conservation with a journalist by saying "I'm ringing to check you got my email." Trust me, email is pretty reliable these days. The real reason you are calling is to pitch your story. Say that. The journalist will respect you for it.
Be brief, succinct and warm, even if you are getting a frosty reaction down the line. Remember, the journalist is probably stressed, and they've been trained to be suspicious of people who ring to offer up stories.
Don't expect to get a commitment from the journalist to cover a story coming up in several days. You can expect to find out whether or not they'll put it in the diary and add it to the mix that morning. Remember, newsroom resources are stretched. If there's a big spot news story the day you want coverage, your story is likely to fall off the back of the truck.
One strategy that can be effective is to ask for 'feedback' about the pitch. "Is this something you'd consider covering?" can be a good place to start.
Be cautious about your tone when it comes to these calls. Journalists do not, in general, like to be told what is a good story and what is not. That is, after all, up to them to decide.
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