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May 20th, 2009

Tag, You’re It: Answer your phone now!

“You have reached the voicemail of…. I am out of the office until…” How often have you gotten voicemail when you’ve called a friend, your client, a reporter [your mother!]? At that crucial moment, the important question: Should you leave a message?

Let’s say no. Because unless you are calling your mother, you don’t truly expect a return phone call. Sometime between eagerly waiting by the phone for your crush to call and screening your cell phone caller ID so you can avoid the loser from last night, we became a society that doesn’t returns calls.


That’s where our disconnect lies. Media relations thrives—no, survives—on a practitioner’s ability to woo a reporter or a blogger or your mother on the phone. Crafting a perfect pitch is successful if you have a human on the other side to talk to. You can’t tell the client you scheduled an interview with BusinessWeek if they don’t pick up.

As children, we used to run around the playground during recess trying to catch all the other children running away from us, just so we can stop chasing. [I still do that.] As adults, how much of your day do you lose re-dialing the same people…reporters to schedule an interview, clients to confirm a time, third-party sources to give their expert opinions, friends for dinner? But, with so much technology at everyone’s disposal, they’re all running and you’re “it.” Good luck getting someone on the phone.

There is strict etiquette about answering a call before the third ring, keeping your cell phone on vibrate on the bus, and not texting during a dinner party—but why not a rule about calling someone back? Professionally it’s frustrating while personally it’s maddening! Returning phone calls is an essential part of building strong relationships. It is the foundation for a successful feature and a lucrative future, so how did we become a culture lacking this most common courtesy?

So, PR pros, I challenge you to buck your impulse to delete your messages and ignore the incoming. This is karma talking. Pick up your phone! Be the person who answers the ones who call you, be the one who returns those messages. Start a trend that will persist throughout the season and check your voicemail, review your caller ID, make the effort to see who it was that wants you on the phone. People will be so impressed with class and don’t be surprised when your phone rings off the hook.

Oh my. Look at that! It’s the Times calling you back.

I’m now Twittering with karma in mind at www.twitter.com/laermer

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