According to countless experts editorial endorsement is one of the most influential ways to deliver your message. Being able to answer a journalist’s questions promptly is therefore vital if you want your ‘expert opinion’ to appear in an article. However, time is often limited and other companies can usually supply comment on the same subject, meaning journalists can easily get information elsewhere.

With this in mind, we’ve been given a guest contribution from the journalist Jon Titus, here he lists his pet hates and how companies can avoid them. These are all old problems (see 2008 piece from Sally Whittle), easy to fix, but still have not been sorted. Over to Jon.

I spent several days trying to track down someone at a large microcontroller company so we could talk about on-chip-debug capabilities. That experience prompted me to list some of the most annoying aspects of trying to contact companies by email or phone. Here goes:

1. When someone in your company transfers a call, have them state that person’s name and extension number. “I’ll transfer you to Mr. Smith at extension 123.” And have everyone include their extension number and title in their outgoing voice-mail message. After going through TouchTone hell to find someone to talk with, I don’t want to go through it again to get back in touch. I’d rather call your competitor who makes phone conversations easier.

2. When you put people on hold, please tune in some music or tell them about your company. We don’t need, “Your call is very important to us…” How do you know? Why not tell callers the average wait time to talk with someone. They can decide to stay on the line or call back later. No need to tell people their call will be answered in the order in which it was received. We know that, too.

3. Ensure when someone leaves your company you have a person who can handle the email and phone messages for the departed staffer. Nothing worse for editors on deadline than finding they have left three or four voice messages and sent email to someone who’s long gone. When someone leaves, record a new message that says something like, “Melanie Ford is no longer available. We’re transferring your call to…” Set the departed person’s email account to bounce back a short message about who to use as a new contact person. Don’t let messages and email end up in “dead” accounts.

4. I’ve run into situations where a receptionist would not connect me to someone at the company because I didn’t know anyone by name. I couldn’t talk to someone in the marketing department unless I knew who I wanted to talk to. How dumb is that? I found several names on the company’s Web site and finally asked to speak to the president by name. That got me to the president’s assistant but I never got a return call. I won’t call them again.

5. If people call and identify themselves as editors or writers, everyone in your company should know how to handle the call and who they should transfer the call to. First, you get the caller to the proper person as quickly as possible. Second, you don’t have employees blabbing gossip or unofficial information to writers. If your company uses a PR agency, have an internal company contact who can provide that information–and put it on your Web site. Receptionists should have that information at their fingertips.

6. Unless you’re on your deathbed, use your voicemail or an automated email response to let callers know you are at a conference, out for the day, on vacation, sick, or otherwise not available. Then refer them to someone who can help them NOW.

7. Don’t let your voice-message box get full. Every once in a while I get a response, “This mailbox is full and cannot accept further messages.” Great. You’re the only person at the company I know to contact and I can’t leave a message for you. If you’re away for an extended time, have a backup plan so a colleague can get and handle your voice messages.

8. Include a complete “signature” in all email communications. All too often email comes with a person’s name and company, but without a phone number. I don’t want to go through a telephone menu of choices and an automated TouchTone “name lookup” to find you when I want to talk rather than email back and forth 10 times.

9. Editor and writers aren’t perfect. People at your company should ask for complete information, including a caller’s phone number, title, publication, what they want to talk about and their deadline. Avoid confusion.

10. When you leave a message–this applies to editors and writers, too–slow down. Slowly state your name, what you called about, and your phone number. You can speak much faster than I can write and when you speak quickly, words and names can run together. Then state your phone number again. It might help to note your time zone, too. You probably don’t want me to call you at midnight your time.

11. Listen first. When I try to identify myself as an editor, some receptionists don’t let me finish. They tell me they don’t talk with advertising people, don’t handle subscriptions over the phone, don’t talk with newspaper editors, and so on. Listen to what callers have to say and then respond. That goes for editors and writers, too.