Is it time to ban voicemail?

Every Friday morning I look forward to our BPK sessions… er, ‘bitchin and pitchin in the kitchen’. The entire Toronto office gets together over breakfast to talk about the past week, identify trends, share ideas, celebrate wins, commiserate when we need to and just try to get better at what we do.

As often happens, we were chatting about the best way to reach out to journalists; in other words what can we do to help them and ensure they don’t consider us pests.  

We all know that’s a very fine line!

Of course there are the basics: knowing what the journalist/blogger has written about and what their interests are BEFORE we contact them, being upfront and respectful, having a good story that’s not too commercial, never rambling, etc.

And then it hit us.  Why are we leaving a voicemail when they don’t answer the phone?  We’re calling because we want something. When we leave a VM, we’re shifting responsibility and adding yet another thing for a busy media person to do. We’re not putting ourselves in their shoes, just tying ours a bit tighter.

And that’s not right.

I’ve always felt it’s our job in PR to get in touch with people we want to reach. And that kind of polite persistence is what differentiates the good practitioners from the bad.

So we came to a decision: we’re going to stop leaving voicemails for journalists.

I mean think about it. How do you feel when you see that flashing red light on your phone? Personally, I don’t like it anymore. When I was a publicist, I used to spend hours gabbing with journalists, hopefully getting and occasionally giving the inside scoop.  But those days are long gone.

Now I much prefer meeting in person, email and social networks.  So don’t expect a message from me. But hopefully, you’ll take my call :).

VM or not? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

12 comments
Troy Stewart
Troy Stewart

While somewhat on a tangent, this blog post has got me thinking about a shift I see occurring in communications, and I'll see if you agree with me.

To me, it seems as though communications has been mainly vocal and visual, due to a lack of technology (no phones, internet, tv or radio) and when there was technology available it was due to the personal touch it provided.

Now, with Facebook, smartphones, email and texting, our methods seems mainly text based. While there still will be meetings, conferences and face-to-face interaction, writing will be the dominant communications method, at least professionally.

I think it has stemmed from accountability (paper trail) and ease, as you can answer many texts/emails etc. through many devices. Talking requires more time, effort and isn't nearly as quick.

I don't know if the shift is good or bad, but I think writing will become even more important in the future.

Martin Waxman
Martin Waxman

Great point about writing becoming even more important - I sure hope it will. I also think we'll need to express ourselves with a combination of text and visuals (video?). All the writing reminds me of the days when people wrote letters and they were delivered several times a day.

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Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis

Great post, and I agree too! Just last week I left a voicemail with a reporter - not a spammy cold call "pitch," but a tip about an upcoming event that I knew she should would want to cover. Did I get a call back? No. Instead, a lengthy "thanks" email along with some questions to help her get ready for coverage. Much more efficient, eliminates time-consuming "telephone tag" (if they're even willing to play) and it creates a trail for future reference.

Karen Snir
Karen Snir

It's great to reach someone by phone and speak directly to them, but if you can't, voicemails are probably not the best way to get them to answer. Most people prefer emails where they can have their specific questions answered and they can also refer back to it. It might just be time to stop leaving voicemails.

Martin Waxman
Martin Waxman

I think it is... Although there are some people who still like them. I personally don't like voicemail messages that ask for something... That's when I believe it's up to the person making the request to follow up.

david coates
david coates

Great post, but let's relax the elastic a bit and see what we're trying to accomplish. I think most people agree that 'in person' is the best communication. Fat chance. So voice to voice (phone) is 2nd. Okay so far. But you don't get the person. Do you hang up or do you leave a VM hoping for a callback? Good question. You've already committed.
If you don't leave a message, the reporter gets a dead air message anyway, so why not leave a message? Like some others here, at this point I usually leave a short message saying I'll send them something by email. I find that if I just send something only by email at first I may never hear or read anything back. And sometimes no reply no longer means 'no,' it sometimes means 'maybe' and it sometimes means 'yes, when I get around to it, stop bugging me.' There is no question that technology has busted business etiquette mores, not always for the better.
Also, it pays to remember that if a reporter/editor is out of the office on Friday, he or she will have upwards of 300 emails waiting for them on Monday, so it's not as if VM is the larger of two evils. I consider all these communication tools ingredients in a recipe for an increasingly complex pie we are all hoping to get into the oven and get a slice of. Sorry for the mixed metaphors, but why throw something out if it might be the thing that works? Hence handwritten thank-you notes sent by snailmail.
I'm reminded of the scene in "Get Low" when undertaker Bill Murray thinks he hears the telephone ring, so he picks the telephone off the cradle and sets it back down, whereupon the ringing stops. He looks up, self-satisfied, only to see Robert Duval has simply opened the door after ringing the doorbell and walked into his office.

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Maggie
Maggie

I agree with everyone's comments and think it's a great idea to stop using VM. I received two voicemails on Friday afternoon. In each, the caller said, "I'll send this information via email shortly." The email was easier to read and contained all of the information I needed. Why duplicate efforts leaving a VM and email?? I think it's a waste of time and a nuisance for the recipient.

Janine
Janine

Oh dear. I'm SO guilty of ignoring phone messages. And you probably already know that -- *grin*

Definitely best to email. If a phone convo is necessary, set it up via email, book the time. Which reminds me, there are some phone calls I was supposed to have made last week... *sigh*

Always best to do the phoning, too, it seems, rather than wait for a phone-fail like me to dial.

Thanks for putting this out there formally, Martin.

Janine
Janine

Must clarify: I don't ignore messages on purpose. Checking for messages is something I never think to do -- got out of the habit about four years ago. Don't even notice the blinky red lights. And then when it occurs to me to check, it's a ridiculous time of day (#nightowl), I have 37 messages, and then over the course of the next crazy day, I totally forget to call everyone back.

Sheesh.

Martin Waxman
Martin Waxman

Thanks Janine. I know what you mean. I used to love that flashing red light because it meant I was connected! Now - it's so much easier to talk online or in person... Plus you don't have to worry about an email sent in the middle of the night waking someone up:).

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Louise Armstrong
Louise Armstrong

Yeah, a great idea. Although I'm sure it still has its uses, I find voicemail fairly passe now. And as PR practitioners we have years of proof that, while leaving a bunch of voicemails lets clients know that we've tried to make follow-up calls, the times that journalists call us back are few and far between.

Nowadays if someone needs to talk to me, I recommend they send me a quick text with the details. That way, I don't have to log in to voicemail and I can take some time to formulate a response and if necessary, call back when it suits me.

Is this something that would work with journalists?

Martin Waxman
Martin Waxman

Thanks Louise. I think it will work with media. A quick and simple note with the essentials of the story. But even if it's longer, it's easier to hit delete for something that's not relevant than log in and listen to a vm.

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