Cold-calling a reporter is a cardinal sin, and yet it remains so prevalent that some reporters don't ever pick up the phone when it rings. Why? They know what many of use are coming to appreciate: Phone calls are an enormous waste of time.
Never does it "just take a few minutes" to "quickly go over everything on the phone." Collaboration -- discussing documents, updating a project's status, or generally checking in -- done over the phone is an affront to our valuable time. We all know it, so why doesn't anyone quash the vicious cycle of conference calls?
The problem is that engaging in a phone call looks far more interesting (and the caller seemingly harder-working) than does hammering away at a keyboard. The guy plugged into his headset saying all the right things is infinitely more impressive than the one pecking away at his computer, right? Wrong.
In my experience, the PR person jumping between phone calls is far more likely to be an inefficient time waster than the one focused on his computer. It's far easier to look busy on the telephone, and it's a great way to pass your day. "I was on the phone all day" you can say to your co-workers and spouse. How very busy you are! How important you must be!
Who cares if you get anything done, right? You were on the phone.
Regardless of how it may seem, PR is not about being loud, or being on the phone, or being 'busy.' To quote one of my more successful clients, "I don’t care if you're working an hour a month if you're getting results." Love him or hate him, the doctrine of Tim Ferriss' Four-Hour Work Week is sound: a real winner is someone who gets great things done, and that doesn't require you to work twelve-, eight-, or even four-hour work days. Or weeks.
The phone is the least efficient tool in my industry - and many others. Here are some suggestions for doing (better) without it.
1. Document Collaboration
Google Docs is the Occam’s Razor of communications. It can and will solve any and all collaborative issues you have. Want to work on a release by committee? Put everyone on the same document. Edit in sequence - everyone gets a go. Agree on a team leader who gets final say.
Do not, at any time, 'jump on the phone to discuss it.' If you cannot communicate your thoughts in the Google Doc comments, you have issues using human words, or maybe you think your time is more valuable than everyone else's. Either way, you've got problems a phone call can't fix.
2. Internal Team Communication
Want to discuss something as an agency or a group? Yammer is great for asynchronous internal social networking, idea sharing and article circulating. Campfire is 37Signals’ simple real-time chat tool -- good for any back and forth that’s too complex for Google's built-in instant messaging. You can even make attachments and split teams into different rooms for separate topics and accounts.
3. Pitching On The Phone, Or Following Up A Pitch Email With A Call
Industry tradition says it's a good idea to follow any pitch with a phone call. It isn't.
To remove any uncertainty, I asked some reporters -- you know, the people being cold-called -- for their thoughts on unsolicited pitch-calling:
"Often, journalists won't respond to e-mail pitches because they either don't have enough time or the story is a poor match. Calling them to follow up only aggravates the situation." - Andrew Nusca, Senior Editor at Fortune Magazine. His voicemail (created out of necessity, says Nusca) even deals with the idea of what to do if you want to follow up an email: "If you've sent me an email, just send me another."
"Oh my god, [expletive] everything about that." - Chris Velazco, reporter at TechCrunch
"Don’t call us. We'll call you." - Kyle Orland, Senior Gaming Editor at ArsTechnica
"Worst thing. WORST THING." - Ben Kuchera, Editor at Polygon
"NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER." Daniel Bader, Senior Editor at MobileSyrup and Betakit
4. Make People Justify Their Calls (and Their Calendars)
It may seem brutal, but if you see a team member has a lot of calls, find out why. Ask to sit in on them, and tell them if you think it's a good use of their time. It's very easy to spend a great deal of time going back and forth with 'fun ideas' on the phone, but the question is whether it's producing any results for the business.
If the underlying purpose of a call is to make the client or the PR person feel smart, then it's a waste of time before it's begun.