Phone calls a poor connection, or are they?

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By Linda Forrest

It’s clear that we’re bad summertime bloggers. Sorry about that.

Occasionally there have been topics that have crossed my path in the last month and a bit that I thought could be ruminated on in a blog post, but when the spirit struck, it was usually when I was unplugged completely for a week-plus (No phone, no internet, no email, no television … heavenly!) or too swamped with client commitments to dedicate the time required to write it up. As I recently Tweeted, I haven’t blogged in so long that I suffered a brief case of performance anxiety about picking up the virtual pen once again.

I’m over it now.

I’ve been doing significant outreach in the UK for one of our clients and I’m noticing that journalists over there are far more eager to have a phone conversation with me than many of their North American counterparts. At outlets big and small, I’ve been greeted with enthusiasm, courtesy and appreciation for the information I’m providing, rather than being avoiding altogether, relegated to voicemail hell or, at worst, berated or abused because I deigned to call. All this latter negative experience has been all-too-common with some North American journalists I’ve dealt with in my decade plus as a PR practitioner. This has been a lovely experience and has resulted in some tangible and impactful coverage for my client.

Many of these same editors and reporters weren’t at all responsive to my emails, a distinct change from my experience in North America where calls and voicemails predominantly go unanswered and unresponded to, but emails fare far better. It was refreshing to have so many productive phone calls that resulted in good things for my clients.

I’d posit that the phone calls themselves went so well because we pride ourselves on building out a media list of pertinent, relevant and interested media targets so that we know all of the angles and all of the data points that are likely to result in coverage of our client. Or perhaps I just seemed exotic with my North American accent and that’s why they were so nice to me, eh?

Having had such a good string of calls, I was particularly interested about the articles I read this week about the death of the phone call. At least that’s the snazzy spin that’s put on the article, but the content rather suggests a more integrated communications approach – using the multiple channels available to us to best communicate with one another. The latter resonates strongly with my daily experience, while the former is hyperbolic and not at all what’s truly going on.

In my recent UK experience, I had indeed sent emails to the folks I later spoke with on the phone. For some, they’d read my email and highlighted as something to follow up at some nebulous point in the future, while others fully admitted that they hadn’t read it. That they had it in their mail and could call it up as we were speaking was very useful as they were provided with more information than I could succinctly deliver on the phone.

The rumours of the telephone call’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Telephone calls still play an important role in the PR practitioner’s day-to-day practice; I will agree that their ranking in the grand scheme of all of the tools available may have slipped, but make no mistake – there’s nothing quite like speaking to someone to get your point across. Whether it’s through Skype or an old rotary dial or anything in between, don’t count the phone call out just yet.

As an aside, there’s an interesting corollary to this phenomenon in the world of popular music. When I was growing up, there were scads of popular songs that highlighted the importance of the phone call – from Blondie’s “Call Me”, Phil Collins’ “Don’t Lose My Number”, and Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309.” The only popular song of late that references the telephone (at least the only one that’s coming to mind at the moment) is Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” with the repeated chorus of “stop calling, stop calling, I don’t want to talk anymore.” Pop music’s just reflecting our shared experience and indicating that the honeymoon’s over when it comes to our love affair with the telephone.

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