Blog Post

Black Letter Communications Blog

Expert pr advice for the legal sector

Pitching in PR stories by phone: Is it time to hang up?

I spoke to an editor friend recently who told me they no longer had phones at the place where she worked. “I have a work mobile, but I jump out of my skin when it rings as no one ever calls,” she said.

This in itself isn’t anything new. I’m used to seeing ‘no phone calls’ listed in journalists’ bios on media databases. Once considered the norm, leaving a voicemail now borders on the offensive and almost certainly won’t be picked up.

Journalists will always tell you to email in the first instance, but emails are easily missed and often forgotten. The same editor admitted she received so many that her inbox was bulging with thousands marked ‘unread.’ Such is the poor response rate to emails that tech start-up Synapse last year launched a ‘Stories Marketplace’ which allows PRs to post press releases to a page that it claims will be seen by the journalists they want to target.

With social media in the mix as well, there are so many different ways of pitching to journalists that it can be difficult to know which one to choose. It’s certainly no longer as simple as picking up the phone but, in such a competitive space, how do you give yourself the best chance of cutting through?

Perfect pitch

Just kidding. There’s no such thing. But as well as honing your pitch to make sure it’s succinct and gets to the nub of the story in the top line if you can, you should spend some time making sure it’s right for the publication/s you’re pitching to. Media databases aren’t just useful for finding out what journalists don’t want; they can also tell you what they do. That includes the best type of content for their audience, their preferred format, and method of contact, and the best times to pitch. Some media outlets work to daily deadlines with priorities decided at morning meetings; others plan months in advance.

It’s an obvious one but also make sure that they haven’t covered the topic before or at least not in the way you’re suggesting. As legal PR specialists, we know when we’re pitching, for example, a family law expert, that we won’t be the only ones and need to make them stand out with a strong opinion or original story idea.


I’m realistic enough to know that not every press release I send is worth holding the front page for, but it can take time to get even the strongest stories over the line. News desks are busy, generally understaffed and often driven by audience figures, i.e. what the audience wants to read as opposed to what you think they should. The popularity of the Daily Mail Online’s ‘sidebar of shame’ is a prime example.

Give journalists time but don’t be afraid to follow up. It’s also important to manage client expectations. They’re unlikely to know the news as well as you and if a story is more local paper than primetime TV or there will be a long wait for publication then it’s best to explain that at the start.

I don’t think the good old-fashioned phone call is dead just yet though. I successfully placed a press release in a national newspaper recently, but it took a follow-up call (I even committed the heinous crime of leaving a voicemail) for the reporter to actually read my initial email.

Journalists – if you can find their number and if they answer – may be more likely to remember you as one of the few people to call them. They may actually find they like it! I know that many of our clients do.

The most important element is still the strength of the story and pitching it in the right way to the right person, however. Journalists are more inclined to give you their time if they can see that you’ve done your homework and are offering something relevant to them and their readers. Crucially, they’re also more likely to remember you when you send them another pitch in the future.

rotary phone