Nothing Beats a Phone Call

When I started out in tech PR a little more than 10 years ago, I was struck by an ironic line in a New York Times story about email, instant messaging and other new forms of communication. The comment came halfway through the story: ”There is this amazing invention called the telephone and you just pick it up and you can talk to anyone in the world, instantly.”

I kind of agreed. While technology was and is revolutionizing the way we communicate, you cannot beat the simplicity and value of dialing a few numbers and hearing a voice on the other end.

Since then of course, there’s been a flurry of innovations: text messaging, Blackberry messaging, Twitter direct messages or @replies, Facebook, and now, even voice notes, which ironically the next generation is finding easier than typing their thoughts and feelings. First it was full sentences, then a few words, then symbols for words, including LMAO, LOL and BRB, all in an effort to have ”real-time” conversations.

As a public relations professional, I see the good and the bad in all this – the good being the ability to communicate more efficiently with larger groups of people. But at the same time, I see people in the industry who are increasingly dependent on technology as a way to interact with reporters rather than timeworn methods like a personal phone call, a meeting over coffee or a drink after work.

This struck me as particularly troublesome because our work is only as good as our relationships with reporters, a group particularly inundated with multiple communications. Unless you have established media relationships, you are stuck with the cold call, something particularly difficult for up-and-comers, and more challenging than ever before. Reporters have less time than ever to return calls, and hardly any to have longer conversations.

Even on the client side, there are so many emails flying around that it is easy to get lost in the extended threads. This is why it is so important to set aside the time for those real-time and real-life conversations. Because no matter how many easier or cooler or more amusing ways there are to communicate, nothing can really replace the little laugh, the quip, the aside, the emphasis that makes a phone call invaluable.

I’m anything but a Luddite – and believe the explosion of choices has improved broad communication and public relations in many ways. But just as one technology never quite erases an earlier one (ok, sometimes it does, but it takes a long time) there’s something universal about a personal relationship developed through the idiosyncrasies of the human voice.

Maybe that’s why voice may be back, at least from what I hear from colleagues who are always exploring the new and the cool. Technology tends to break down social norms but then people tend to recast that technology in a way that best suits their needs and desires, and ultimately helps them connect.

Video chat and Blackberry Messenger VoiceNote are redefining real-time conversation best encapsulated by the phone call or the even more traditional in-person meeting. At a certain point, people need that human connection – to hear another voice at the other end of the line or to have that in-person meeting. And frankly, there is nothing easier than just speaking your thoughts. It is our primary and most natural mode of communication. And it is good for business – whether speaking to a reporter or communicating with clients.

Inflections and emotions are integral to communications – they enhance what we say and how we are heard. Of course, I’ll always use email and IM and all of the other technologies at hand, but there’s something about catching up on the phone that just can’t be replaced.

Posted by: Rachel Carr, Senior Vice President