We are living in an age of nearly limitless outlets for communications. Just in the past few years, social media has risen to become one of our primary means of communicating (particularly in the public relations world), and it has changed the landscapes of both the business world and the media sphere. Meanwhile, email remains the gold standard for all forms of communication in business – especially now that we’re able to check our emails on smartphones, tablets and other devices. When someone asks for a fax, we assume they are old fashioned: ‘what’s the matter, can’t they open a PDF?’
However, one of our most important tools for communicating might be collecting dust on our desks. We still use the telephone, aka a land line, for conference calls, but more and more we bypass the phone, instead opting for the immediate gratification of email, texting and social media. The phone can seem like a cumbersome old beast, and intimidating too, because using it means you actually have to participate in a conversation.
So why is the telephone still relevant and essential to successful communication? For the exact reasons that many choose to avoid phone calls: they involve real-time human dialog, they demand politeness and etiquette, and they don’t give you the chance to ignore the person on the other end. Most importantly, phone calls are personal. There is no equivalent of a mail merge for the telephone conversation – it requires your dedicated time and attention. And the person on the other end of the call will likely appreciate the call for those exact reasons.
The best case for phone calls for PR professionals is when making a pitch to the media. Media contacts, whether they are bloggers, newspaper journalists or magazine editors, are more often than not flooded with emails, especially pitches. Because they receive so many emails, media contacts are often forced to only glance at them, or even delete them right away. This isn’t necessarily because they shun PR professionals (though some do), but because they simply don’t have time to read every pitch, especially when they are on deadline. PR folks sometimes avoid the follow up call because they are afraid of journalists who are cranky, rude or dismissive. And some definitely are. But a few rotten apples shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch, so go ahead and make the call, because it will probably be worth your time, even if it is just to get you a definite ‘no’ for an answer. Personally, I have had numerous editors thank me for making a phone call.
The telephone is not just an essential tool for PR professionals, but for everyone in the business world. As communication becomes less personal and loses its human element, it makes the phone call all the more special and important. Also, it keeps your social skills sharp. Even in the Google age, the business world is shaped by human interactions. So dial away – even if it is just to reconnect with an old colleague, or make first contact with that acquaintance who gave you their card over the weekend. The telephone is one classic Reputation Communications tool that (hopefully) will never become obsolete.