When I first started in PR a few years back, one of my favourite tasks was doing the ‘sell in.’ At the time I was doing Financial PR and when we did, on the rare occasion, do a sell-in, we had genuinely interesting news to bring to the journalist. I had no problem calling up some of the most respected journos and letting them know my client had something they might be interested in and then talking them through what they might expect. I spoke, they listened and everything seemed to go well. I had a review recently and media relations skills once again stood out.
Personally, I don’t think there is much to it – I would much prefer to be able to format a document so perfectly that every decimal point was in the right place – but apparently it is something to be proud of.
That said, I have met fellow PR folk who are terrified about picking up the phone and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. One person I know just made up responses from journos once when he got a particularly dodgy story which he knew would get no coverage. To keep up the pretence, he called the talking clock and sold-in to an automated response………
There is only one thing I dislike about calling journos and that’s when I have to do it at a time in the day that I don’t feel comfortable with. I think there is a window of opportunity to call national journalists and that is between 10:30am – 12:30pm. They’ve just come out of editorial meetings, they’re going through emails and they are at a point where they won’t have decided which story to chase. If you call after that cut-off point, you risk getting them when they are trying to get out to lunch (not wise), whilst they are drafting copy (not wise), or when they are trying to escape for the day (very unwise).
So unless I have the next Watergate, I try to stick to that window. However, as is usually the case, we can’t control when news comes to us and we have to approach in the late afternoon.
On one occasion, many, many moons ago, I called a national journo at 4:35 regarding a press release I had sent out 15 minutes before. Of course, he hadn’t seen it – he was instead writing his piece for the next day. So, and I have taken the liberty of cleaning up the language for the kids, he said: “I apologise, young sir. I have been rather preoccupied and have been unable to peruse your release as I have many awaiting my attention. I am also trying to scribe an article and would appreciate it if you would kindly leave me in solace until it is completed.”
It takes a lot for me to blush, but the language that day would have made even Father Jack think twice. On the flip side, my colleague called someone at the same time and got an article out of it which was touted far and wide. I scratched my head.
Good media relations skills? I think on some occasions it’s down to sheer luck, but don’t tell my line manager that!