Follow up is one of the tools which connects a PR consultant with a journalist. Or at least should connect, because many PR consultants (especially beginners) avoid follow up like the plague. Is there really anything to be afraid of and do public relations even exist without follow up?
In public relations follow up basically means continuation of something, complementary to some thought or a reference to a theme, story or person. It is the re-establishment of contact, usually telephone with a journalist, occurring after press release or a sent invitation. At first sight, seems like a trivial thing – I grab the phone and call. Why then PR agencies’ employees avoid this form of contact with journalists, while the latter are annoyed at the sound of na official phone call? Well, the „art” of follow up is not so complicated but still not the easiest one. Journalists receive about 20 emails daily with press releases. However not every sender grabs the phone to make direct contact. It is result of fear and laziness, because good follow up requires intuition, time and consequences.
To send an invitation or press materials associated with an event, first of all we must create a media base. It is crucial to match the media base to the theme and make sure that journalist will receive only these information which actually may be of interest for him or her. Unfortunately, it often happens that our base is either outdated or simply in state of disarray. Sometimes the media are all together on the list, with no distinction for trades or topics. In such situation, when calling business journalists with information related to a completely different industry, we should’t be surprised all we can induce is journalists’ annoyance and conceivably that we’ll be asked to remove his number from our database.
Confidence is key
We must remember that follow up mainly means building a relationship with the journalist. Direct call is the best way to inspire trust in our interlocutor and take advantage of the opportunity to try to interest him or her in the issue. During such conversations details, such as the timbre of our voice, or knowledge of the subject we are calling about are very important. If we don’t know something, it’s better o say it directly assuring that we’ll contact again as soon as we get the information journalist is asking about. It’s also a good idea to ask in what form the information should be provided, so that it suits the journalist best. You may find that email or even SMS would be a better option than another phone call. We must be kind and understanding, but at the same time confident and assertive. Remember, our interlocutor receives such phones like ours dozens of times per day. And while we — PR consultants — make similar numbers of calls, it’s important to remember that it’s us who needs the journalist more, not the other way around. We want to encourage him to publish our content, or come to the event we organise, which is why patience and understanding is our way to success. Shortly after we introduce ourselves and say why we are calling, we should ask the journalist for a moment of his time to discuss this topic. If he or she refuses don’t be discouraged — just ask for a better moment to call. And what if this is actually the right moment?
Many people panic during conversations. It’s good to ask yourself: is there anything to be afraid of? Usually junior consultants are tasked with follow up. Very often these people are freshly employed in the agency. Why is this happening? First of all, PR agencies doesn’t take follow up seriously. It is believed that everybody can do it. In reality follow up it requires a lot of consequence, patience and thorough preparation. Very often people who are managing PR teams forget, that this is the first chance to build a relationship with a journalist, and as the name suggests relation is the heart of public relations. Second reason is the fact that follow up is time-consuming. Senior consultants cannot afford the time for it for two reasons. First — their time is too valuable, second — the „old” PR consultants have their own contacts and use them as often as possible. Therefore the youngest and often the least experienced person is faced with a conversation with a stranger. It may be frightening, but a good attitude and preparation are most important.
Moreover, it is worth bearing in mind, that we should pick a time for our follow up according to what our initial e-mail concerns. If it’s an invitation we can start the next day, while in case of a press release we can wait 3-4 days, but no longer.
It may seem old-fashion or time-consuming but notes after conversation with a journalist are a very important element of a follow up. Summing up the conversation will help us remember exactly when we should remind the journalist about our topic (too frequent calling on the same issue will cause more harm than good) and what content they are interested in primarily (this will allow us to send only information that they really are willing to publish). It provides us with good organisation and work hygiene as well, which is very important in such a task as a follow up.
The journalist is the most important person for a PR consultant when he wants media attendance at an event or his press release widely published. But there are some situations when the PR consultant becomes crucial figure for the journalist as well. Why? Because in the journalistic industry there is no information more valuable than the one you get before other, competing media. Such situations happen frequently in political events reporting. In that case it’s the journalist that often calls the PR consultant who deals with this specific issue. This wouldn’t be possible if not for earlier development of the journalist – consultant relationship.
What you need to remember at the end of the day is: phone calls and establishing direct contact with journalists is extremely important. Such relationship can lead to mutual benefits. And aiming for this goal requires less effort than you might imagine. There is nothing to be afraid of, just prepare well, stay calm and press the call button. The conversation will unfold itself well, if we keep our head and show professionalism.