Pick Up the Phone!

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We all have a device right close at hand that allows us to contact the media. It's called a telephone. Alexander Graham Bell went to so much trouble to invent it and we don't use it nearly enough.

Awhile ago I approached a reporter about a story using one of my restaurant clients. He liked the idea and told me to have my client call him directly. I briefed my client on the pitch and told him to call the reporter. A few days later I asked my client how it went and this is how the conversation ran:

How was the interview?
What interview?
The interview with the Newspaper.
Oh, he didn't want to talk to me.
But he told me to have you call him.
Well, I called him once and he never called back.

So my client called him once and never called again. He actually assumed the reporter would drop everything and immediately return the call. When he didn't, my client dropped it. Fortunately, I was able to patch things up and set up the interview. So often people just don't call or call just once. Either they really believe the media will call back or they are so arrogant they expect the media to contact them. Of course, if you are one of the industry's superstars, the media will contact you. But even then, you have to be available.

I always tell my clients, the person who stands to gain the most has to make the first move; in this case, the phone call.

So many people are fearful of contacting the media. Really, what is the worst that can possibly happen? Do you expect reporters to gather on your doorstep waving torches and muttering curses? Of course, not. The worst that can happen is they will say “no. " Isn't that terrible, they will say no. Mr. Restaurateur, you own a restaurant, you know how to deal with people or, at least, you should. Are you so delicate that you can't bear to be told no?

I would be the last person to tell you to make a nuisance of yourself, calling every hour on the hour. But I frequently call once, leave a message and then when they don't call back, I call again. But when I make repeat calls, I leave no message and hang up if they don't answer. That way, they don't get so many messages they feel I'm stalking them. And if they don't answer, why leave another message? I wait until I'm lucky enough to speak to them and then go into my pitch.

The important thing to remember here is you must make the call in the first place. There are very many people wanting publicity and only a comparatively small number of people who can give us that publicity. Another thing to remember is to be availabe at the reporter's convenience, not yours. Remember: many of us and few of them. They don't have to interview you, they can easily interview your competitor down the street who makes things easy for them.

A number of years ago I had a client who had been the recipient of a good deal of publicity and it went to her head. I called her one afternoon at home with the happy news that one of the top New York papers wanted to interview her that day. She didn't want to do it because she was waxing her legs! Couldn't the reporter do it another day? I explained that no, he couldn't and she finally agreed to come into Manhattan for the interview (two pages).

So, remember, please: you make the call and you make yourself available at his convenience, not yours.

Miriam Silverberg is president of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in New York City. She has represented and worked with restaurants, doctors, fashion and beauty clients, politicians and New York City Ballet.


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