Is the phone call completely dead in PR?

Recently, I made a decision with a client of mine: I was going to pick up the phone and call her once a week (at least).

As with most clients, I conduct most of my business with clients via email. I provide updates via email. I share files. I provide advice.

But, I typically don’t spend a lot of time on the phone with clients (at least one-on-one; we have lots of status and planning calls).

So, I decided to change that and give my client a call once a week. Just to check in, or chat, if we didn’t have specific business to tackle.


And you know what? I think my client likes it.

You know what else? I do, too.

Now, my situation might be a bit different since I’m an independent consultant and don’t see/hear from too many people during the day.

But, this is part of a bigger trend in our industry (and others): The trend AWAY from voice-to-voice communications.

Blame smart phones.

Blame Millennials.

Blame email.

Whatever the case, we’ve been inching further and further away from phone calls as a preferred method of communication for years.

In fact, we’re now in a spot where reporters PREFER email, and in some cases, Twitter, to the old-fashioned phone.

If I would have told you email would have been the preferred pitch method back in 1996 (when I graduated) you would have called me crazy.

Yet, here we are. The phone is dead as a communications device, according to many in our field.

But, I’m here to say the death of the phone call has been greatly exaggerated. Here’s why:

No one else is calling people–you’ll stand out if you do

With everyone else emailing, Twittering, Snapchatting and Facebooking, you’ll most likely stick out like a sore thumb with your weekly phone calls. I’ve also taken to this strategy with my networking and other professional relationships. I look for opportunities (read: time in the car) to give colleagues, former clients, and professional friends a quick call. Again, since very few people are doing this, it always kinda sticks out and is remembered.

Eliminate 20% of your email traffic with a few simple phone calls each week

One of the downsides of email and texting is the shorter messages–the inability to explain EVERYTHING in an email. We’ve all been a part of the 45-email-long chains of back-and-forth messages about a particular project. In cases like that, wouldn’t a simple 10-minute phone call work much better? My new rule of thumb: If the chain gets longer than 5 emails, I pick up the phone. But, overall, you can eliminate a LOT of email traffic with a few simple phone calls during the week.

Phone calls: The second-best way to cement all-important relationships

It’s hard to build a meaningful relationship over email. Or Twitter. Or Snapchat. Some of those tools are great for STARTING a relationship, but it’s very tough to really build a deep relationship unless you can see that colleague or partner face-to-face. Or, talk to them on the phone. So, sure, face-to-face is always the best way to build a relationship with a business partner, colleague or manager. But, those phone calls are a close second. Because, you can have more than a 140 character conversation about what you did last weekend. You can actually talk about what’s happening on that project and not be limited by constraints like character count and length of a note.

Phone calls will help you manage up a bit better

Since many managers at this time probably fall in that Generation X or Baby Boomer bucket (not all, but a lot), remember that those people didn’t grow up with email. Or Twitter. Or texting. We grew up with fax machines. And word processors. So, the phone is still a great (and in some cases, preferred) way to communicate with us. So, want to really make an impression on your boss? Lay off the email for a while, and call them once in a while. They may not have a lot of extra time, so you may have to get creative (can I call you when you’re in the car?). But, I do believe it will make an impression.

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23 comments on “Is the phone call completely dead in PR?

  1. AlisonKenney says:

    When I saw the title of your post, I thought this post might be about using the phone for pitching media. I think the phone is a little less effective in that situation (and most media have made it clear they prefer email pitches) but another trend impacting both types of phone communication is that many businesses are eliminating voice mail. Or if they still have voice mail, many people aren’t checking it.

  2. ladysportsman says:

    I have regular, weekly calls with the majority of my clients. I know it makes a huge difference. We go over the previous week – what worked, what didn’t – and then review what is on the horizon. Not only do you get quite a bit done in just 30 minutes a week, but you also cement in that client’s mind you actually give a damn about them. Some of my clients work in remote locations 200 days out of the year, so then I just check in with weekly texts and of course, emails. It is all about showing that 1 – you are thinking of them and 2 – you are not just taking their $$ and screwing around.

  3. BrianBWagner says:

    PublicityGuru arikhanson to phone or not to phone: a pr dilemma

  4. Andrew_Flick says:

    PublicityGuru A dilemma that would be easier to solve if reporters would just respond “No thanks” or “Let’s try next week” to email pitches

  5. DorothyCrenshaw says:

    We’ve been talking about this at my agency; the phone is virtually obsolete when it comes to client communications, with for the major exceptions being client conference calls. But the conference calls only go so far. The other day I caught up with a former client over the phone – it was a fun, gossipy call – and it did strike me that no other medium would have worked as well. Sometimes you just have to call.

    And if my office landline weren’t dominated by vendor call centers and robocalls, I might actually answer it once in a while…

  6. PatrickCoffee says:

    dorocren arikhanson not if you’re including “pull that story NOW” calls

  7. ATX_Molly says:

    PublicityGuru Probably. BrianBWagner Andrew_Flick Totally agree…. #:PRProbz

  8. dorocren says:

    PatrickCoffee arikhanson LOL We don’t do too much of that…: )

  9. PatrickCoffee says:

    dorocren arikhanson you guys don’t rep any ad agencies…

  10. arikhanson says:

    PatrickCoffee dorocren Ha–yes!

  11. dorocren says:

    PatrickCoffee arikhanson Or talent…when I think of publicist tantrums I think of Hollywood cliches (Debi Mazar in Entourage eg)

  12. arikhanson says:

    PatrickCoffee dorocren “the independent authority on PR”? LOL

  13. PatrickCoffee says:

    arikhanson dorocren I hope they all had to take a BuzzFeed quiz to qualify

  14. arikhanson says:

    PatrickCoffee dorocren you’re on fire!

  15. dorocren says:

    PatrickCoffee arikhanson Ah, yes, it’s an SEO scam-thing. But I think we should institutionalize the BuzzFeed exam. A new kind of APR!

  16. dorocren says:

    arikhanson PatrickCoffee He’s always like that. Dunno if it’s the name or what.

  17. vacobjoss says:

    PublicityGuru it seems as if reporters prefer email nowadays but I don’t think the phone will ever die!

  18. ShawnPaulWood says:

    dorocren PatrickCoffee arikhanson You’re onto something with that “new kind of #APR” thingy. I’m smelling a pontificate coming along.

  19. ElissaFreeman says:

    ladysportsman I so agree! Plus those weekly calls help jog the client’s memory about things that aren’t necessarily on the agenda – but as their consultant you need to know. Plus the trust factor is huge – a rapport you can build by phone calls and not necessarily by email.

  20. randell9 says:

    Honestly, only rare people are doing that today. Most people prefer email or twitter, although phone call has great impression than sending email.

  21. 3HatsComm says:

    Depends on who you’re calling, what for and why. FWIW:

    – Media: I’ve had success pitching writers when I’ve gotten them on the phone, had something worth sharing. Per AlisonKenney sometimes you call, leave messages – worth sharing, on their beat – but you get nada. 
    – Clients and other trade partners, it’s a little different. Small business clients, some of mine are off doing/running the business, so no time to talk. They only manage to get to emails late or super early in the morning. Other times, the calls are very helpful, yet then things get missed or the client doesn’t remember where things were left. So I still find myself emailing to summarize, make sure what I heard is what was discussed. Even then it’s the nature of the project; if it’s significant wording changes or design edits that require client approval, I require that be in writing so I’m covered. 
    – Situations. There are opportunities that can’t wait for email or projects on deadline. Sometimes all you need is a quick answer, so a call may be better; other times the details are too complex to explain via email. IDK m not that much a caller, mostly b/c of the time so that’s my rule of thumb: what’s gonna be the clearest, most effective and most efficient?

  22. 3HatsComm says:

    Yikes, LF just ate my comment. 🙁 To sum up: if calling is faster, easier, more effective – for me and them – then that’s the way to go. It’s really about what you’re doing, why, the deadlines and particulars, if it’s too complex or simple for a call vs. email; if it’s got time to sit in the inbox or requires immediate approval. As always, it’ll depend. FWIW.