If 8 out of 10 journalists prefer to receive pitches via email and not from phone calls, does that mean you should only pitch by email?

No, says Jeremy Porter, who wrote a series of Smilie & Dial tips for the Journalistics blog recently. They’re an excellent primer for anyone who’s brave enough to call.

When I worked in 20 years ago, we thought nothing of receiving phone pitches because we didn’t use email. People pitched either by phone, fax or snail-mail letter. Today, everything has changed and phone pitches have fallen out of favor with journalists.

But not with smart Publicity Hounds. Here are five more tips to keep in mind if you’re calling.

1. Don’t call on deadline.

If you’re not sure when deadline is, call the operator and ask. Or call the newsroom and ask whoever answers the phone, “When is the best time to call reporter Karen Phelps when she isn’t on deadline?”

2. Be considerate of the reporter’s time.

As soon as Karen answers the phone, ask, “Hi Karen, this is Joan Stewart and I have a story idea for you. Is this a good time to talk?” If not, she will say so. Ask her when you should return the call.

3. Pitch in 15 seconds or less

If you can’t pitch within 15 seconds, you’re doing something wrong. Write the pitch and practice it. But make it sound natural.

4. Think McDonald’s Happy Meal

My friend, Cleveland TV personality Connie Dieken, says all parents of young kids know there are four chicken nuggets in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Deliver your idea in nuggets.

If your pitch is 15 seconds and the journalist asks for more, deliver the second nugget. If she asks you another question, deliver the next nugget, and so on. Don’t try to tell her the entire story as soon as you start talking.

5. Sidestep the gatekeepers

Here’s a really sneaky trick on how to get past gatekeepers. It’s used frequently by job-hunters who are trying to reach the decision-makers.

Simply call someone in another department at the paper. You might ask for someone in the advertising department, for example. When an ad rep answers the phone, you say, “I’m so sorry. I’m getting tripped up in your confusing phone system. I’m trying to reach health reporter Karen Phelps. Can you please transfer me?”  The ad rep, who probably hates the phone system too, will feel sorry for you and transfer you.

Veteran PR pros have told me that even if they know a reporter prefers email pitches, they might call anyway, particularly if the pitch is strong.

What about you? What tips can you add to these about how to pitch by phone? What techniques have worked well for you?