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The Lost Art of Following Up



    “Hey, this is Claude Thompson from Brand Ninja. I’m just emailing you to follow up on that voicemail I left you regarding that direct message I sent you about my smoke signal?”

    It isn’t a major exaggeration to say I get one form or another of this email at least once a day. At least. And it really needs to stop.

    “But David, you should just be responding to every one of these emails posthaste!,” is the likely response.

Two things:

    1. If I were to follow up on every single email like this I get throughout the workday, I would never get any work done.
    2. Who uses the worst posthaste?

    This is a slightly different post than one my homey JD Gershbein did late last year, a treatise on being “crazy-busy,” and why that’s a copout excuse for being tardy to the email party.

    My thinking is that we are forgetting all about the lost art of the follow-up. As a PR person, slapping a bunch of emails in your program, and then doing it again a few days later, this is akin to robo-calling or telemarketing to someone’s house when they’re sitting down to dinner. I’m just getting my workday started, and you want a quick and snappy response to what I’m doing when you can’t be expected to give a personal touch or even keep track of what I told you the last time we touched base?

    There are many PR agencies who are even sloppier at this -- they have multiple people blasting the same writers, influencers and tastemakers about the same project they’re hustling, sometimes even within the same hour.
    This needs to stop.

    It won’t happen overnight, and maybe it doesn’t need to. Last night, over drinks with a colleague, I was talking about how it’s good and bad that there are wannabes and folks who don’t know what they’re doing in every field. It makes it easier for those of us who work hard and try to stand out, to, well, stand out.

    I can only speak to my experience, but the folks I get back to quicker are the people who exhibit the following:

    1. I am actively working to schedule something with you. That means I’ve responded and expressed an interest. Also realize, if you’re talking about pitching writers, oftentimes, the best writers are resourceful and don’t depend upon press releases to paraphrase to constitute a story they’re chasing. But if I’ve hit you back and am interested -- I’m not lying. I am interested.
    2. We have worked together successfully on a couple of things previously. That constitutes a working relationship. I know where you’re coming from and you know where I need to go on stuff. There are people who ping incessantly and when the magic hour comes and I am on the phone with your client, the worst thing you can do is have lied about whether they’re up to speed on what we’ll be doing. I don’t mind refreshing people’s memories when we hop on the phone, but if they have to hear from me the very first time what it is we’ll be doing, that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Also, that basically reduces the role of a publicist to a glorified secretary, and I doubt you think of yourself in that way.
    3. You have found a clever way of customizing your pitch to what I’m writing about. If you keep pestering and saying, “Hey, did you get this email?” all I can say is, “Yes, my email works.” Also, please put yourself in someone else’s shoes: Imagine you are on the receiving end of email blasts like the ones you are sending. Now multiply it by your favorite exponent and by the number of seconds in the workday. That’s what we are trying to take a scythe to 24/7 to find the most compelling content to provide our audiences with.
    4. And, above all else. Be a pal. We all think our work is the world’s most important work, but remember that it isn’t. It only seems that way to us. If you aren’t getting a response in a polite amount of time, take a deep breath, move on and try again later. Re-evaluate your approach. Or if you’re confident in what you’re pushing, trust that it will find the audience it needs in good time. So stop rushing things and do the work. It's like being an entrepreneur: If your idea fails, just keep trying and trying. 

    Andy Rooney out.

    David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.