Pick up the Phone: Lessons We Can Learn from Public Relations about Outreach

SEOs and Public Relations professionals can sometimes have a contentious relationship. PR pros often feel like we’re encroaching on their territory, while as SEOs, we feel like we can add more value and ROI for clients with data-driven results. But PR and SEO are not mutually exclusive-- in fact, the best results often happen when they work together. And there is a lot that we can learn from each other, especially as SEO becomes more about relationship building.

How do I know this? Confession time: I come from a PR background-- I studied it in school and worked as a PR Specialist before starting at SEER. So, even though I’m a relative SEO newbie, trust me when I say there are valuable lessons to be learned from our PR counterparts. I draw upon my PR background every day, and I like to think it makes me a more effective outreacher.

There are a lot of areas we could cover, like writing techniques or press releases. But, in this digital age, one of the most forgotten tools in your outreach (or in PR parlance, media relations) arsenal is the telephone. Yes-- you can actually pick up the phone and call a reporter (or whoever you’re trying to reach out to!).

Nobody particularly loves doing phone outreach (at least, no one I've ever met!). As SEOs, I know we’d be content to do all our outreach by email. It’s scalable, quick, and if I’m being honest, less intimidating. But there are times when email isn't the way to go (for example, when it’s a time sensitive subject or an “out there” idea), and calling your contact is more effective. Why? You can break through the email noise and make sure your idea is at least heard. Plus, it’s harder to say no to someone over the phone, rather than anonymously clicking delete.

So here are some lessons I learned in my PR days that will (hopefully) make your next phone outreach more effective (and less painful!):

1. Timing is Everything

Know the best time to call. In general, mid-week is the best for phone outreach (you typically want to avoid Mondays and Fridays if possible). Also, if you’re doing outreach outside of your local area, make sure you know where the person is located and be mindful of appropriate times to call. For reporters, be aware of when they are on deadline (a good rule of thumb is to avoid calling in the late afternoon).

Respect the person’s time. Never just jump into your pitch without first asking if they “have a minute”-- it’s presumptuous (and not to mention, rude). And, try to keep your initial pitch around 30 seconds. It’s short enough that if they’re not interested, you haven’t taken up too much of their time, and if they are interested, you have time to discuss it further.

Then, if they do indicate they’re interested, make sure to follow up right away (or when they tell you to!). You've already done the hardest part-- you don't want to drop the ball now. Staying on their radar will significantly increase your chances of closing the deal (and getting the link).

2. Be Relevant (and Prepared)

If you are actually going to call someone, you better be confident that whatever you’re pitching is relevant to them. When emailing, you can occasionally take a risk and reach out to someone who isn’t a perfect fit, but might be interested. Phone pitches must be highly targeted, so do your homework-- know the types of stories they typically cover and recent things they have worked on (reference your research in your call if possible-- it can help build rapport). Nothing will annoy a person more than a non-relevant phone pitch that wastes their time (see tip #1).

Along those lines, make sure you are prepared and well-versed in whatever you’re pitching. Know your pitch (and answers to any questions that could come up) inside and out before picking up the phone. Don’t write your pitch out word for word (this can lead to stilted conversations)-- instead, distill it down to bullet points that you can look at during your call.

3. Stand Out from the Crowd

You probably have about 10 seconds to grab the person’s attention, so regurgitating the same old thing they hear day in and out isn't going to cut it. Identify what makes your client and their pitch unique. What do you have to offer that the person you are pitching can’t find anywhere else? Why is it a good fit for them in particular? People are egocentric-- they want to know what’s in it for them. So focus on that because it’s what they want to hear!

And, always end with a call to action. If you don’t lay out what you’re asking for, how can the person respond appropriately? (You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this!)

4. They Said No, Now What?

Rejection is the hardest part of phone outreach, but it isn't necessarily the end of the line. If a person hears you out, but ultimately isn't interested, take a second to ask what topics they would be interested in. They obviously thought it was worth their time to listen to what you had to say, so make sure you use this opportunity to build a relationship that you can capitalize on in the future. (Or there might be another angle you hadn't considered or an opportunity for another client). Use your judgment here-- if the call hasn't been going well, you might want to skip this.

Bonus tip: Keep a list of objections that come up as you speak to people. Make sure you can address (and overcome) them in future calls.

5. Be Yourself

It’s important to remain conversational and casual (yet professional!). You don’t want to come off stiff or disinterested (like this is your 20th call today-- even if it is). I've found letting my personality come through makes people more receptive. You’re awesome-- let the person you’re reaching out to see that!

Obviously, phone outreach isn't appropriate for every situation. For example, you’re not going to try to reach out to bloggers by phone. But if you have an idea, asset, or project that you really believe in, it might be worth it to pick up the phone and tell the person why they should share it. You just might a build link (or a relationship) that you didn't anticipate! Have any other phone outreach tips? Share them in the comments-- or let me know on Twitter @up_for_GRABS89.


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