Mastering the Cold Call

I mentioned back in an August post that I’m a big fan of cold-calling and cold-emailing as a way to open doors for oneself. Cold-calling involves picking up the phone and calling someone you don’t know at all. These calls usually involve you introducing yourself, asking for something, or inquiring about potential employment. The premise of the cold call is that 1) you’re good enough, and 2) they just haven’t met you yet. Cold-calling should always be a supplement to other forms of networking, such as getting involved in local industry groups, connecting with people on LinkedIn, leveraging your friend and family networks, and asking people you know about leads.

Cold calls require a lot of guts, a lot of time, and a lot of resilience, but when cold calls pay off, the joy is immense. Consider the rifle and the shotgun. Rifles fire one bullet and have a lot more precision than shotguns. Shotguns, on the other hand, spray an imprecise bunch of small projectiles at a target in the hopes that at least one will hit it. Cold calling is definitely a shotgun approach to networking, but there are ways to improve your aim over time. I’ve had a LOT of success cold-calling in my career, and I can’t tell my students enough how much they need to start cold-calling, too. Here are my tips for cold-calling/cold-emailing.

Know Thyself

First off, you have to know what you want and what your strengths are. If you’re looking for an internship in PR, for instance, you need to know what you enjoy about PR and what your ideal internship would look like. Figure out your needs and your wants in an internship, For instance, you probably need either money or college credit out of an internship, so prepare to make that your minimum requirement. Identify your ideal scenario. Again, if you’re looking for an internship in PR and you really want to do a paid internship in the sports industry specifically, then your ideal scenario would involve doing exactly this for the local professional sports team. My advice is to start with the ideal and work backwards toward the situations you’ll tolerate. Why start with the ideal? Because you just may land it on your first attempt. In any case, though, you need to know what you’re good at, know what you’re looking for, know what kind of situation you’ll accept, and be prepared to act fast if an opening is available (e.g., have a resume and portfolio ready).


You’re probably going to have to send out a lot of calls/emails before something sticks. A LOT. I once called more than 80 PR firms to inquire about internships before I finally found one (note: the internship was a great fit for me, but I didn’t end up taking it, though, for other reasons). If you call, you’ll leave a lot of voicemails that won’t get returned. If you email, you’ll get a lot of unanswered requests. But occasionally, you’ll get a lead that you can pursue.

Look at it this way: the worst thing that can happen is you’ll get a lot of “no’s” and unreturned calls, and the majority of the time you’ll be seen as a go-getter who is trying to drum up some opportunities. But the best thing that can happen is that you’ll land a dream opportunity that will open up a series of doors for yourself for the whole first stage of your career. Most people stick to and stick to the lists of internship opportunities available in their schools, and so on. But most people aren’t picking up the phone and trying to generate new opportunities. You need to be this person.


When you contact people that you don’t know and ask for something, you need to be polite. You’re butting into their headspace, after all. Always emphasize why you think you’d be a good fit for the company and why the company would be a good fit for you. And ground your calls/emails in loftier concepts; don’t just say you want an internship with anyone, but rather say you want to have a valuable learning experience with exactly that one company. Ask for simple things, like the opportunity to apply for an internship rather than the opportunity to have the internship. Don’t ask for handouts–ask for opportunities. You’d be surprised how often this gets you in the door. In all cases, though, be brief and professional and courteous. Throw in some flattery, but don’t suck up. And make your cold calls and emails personal and specific; don’t make it seem like you’re blasting out hundreds of copies of the same email. Research every organization you contact and tailor your cold call accordingly.


Finally, remember in a cold call that you’re trying to emphasize what you’ll contribute as much as what you’ll get out of an opportunity. Back to the internship example. The point of an internship is to supply a bit of free labor to an organization in exchange for getting an insider’s look into how the organization/industry operates. It’s a learning experience for you, but it should also very much be a benefit to the organization. Hopefully, the organization won’t just require you to make coffee and make copies, but that may happen, and you need to be enthusiastic about it. You can also emphasize that you think you’d bring some good energy, a college student’s perspective, and some great ideas to the mix, and you just want an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of that organization.

Organizations are always looking for talented people and good ideas, whether they’re actively hiring for a position or not. And you never know when someone at the organization just rolled out of a meeting where everyone seemed overworked and they needed to start thinking about hiring someone (but they don’t have the money to do so or the time to interview candidates). You could be the perfect solution as an intern, and they may just say “OK, you’ve got the internship. When can you start?” Just remember that those organizations that have posted a job announcement know precisely what their needs are. But all organizations have needs, and you may find yourself fulfilling those needs before the organization can even crystallize what those needs are.

Recent Cold Call Successes

I’ve had a few cold call successes recently. This semester, I wanted to include some guest speakers in my PR classes, and I wanted these speakers to represent a variety of perspectives. I cold-emailed PR folks at Logo (MTV’s LGBT channel) and PR folks at Lowe’s Home Improvement (headquartered in the state), and both attempts were successful. Without having any prior connections, I was able to make new ones with these organizations, bringing valuable professional perspectives into my classes and making (what I hope are) some long-term professional connections. In time, I’m hopeful these connections will benefit my students, the organizations, and me. And no one gets “used” in this process, either. I was surprised to see how eager the Lowe’s and Logo folks were to speak to classes, which reminded me that professionals are sometimes eager to give back to classes and teach a bit of what they know. It’s fulfilling for them in some ways, and their talks are fulfilling for my students.

Another cold call success was when I picked up the phone last summer and called the U.S. Curling Association. I was writing an article for Flow about curling’s TV success in the Winter Olympics, and I wanted to get some stats about the growth of curling. I linked up with USCA’s PR person, and I ended up contacting her again later in the summer to see if USCA was interested in being the client for my PR Campaigns class. And they agreed.

I wouldn’t have made these great connections without having the guts to shoot cold emails into the abyss.

3 thoughts on “Mastering the Cold Call

  1. I am learning the art right now. I am working as hard as I can to get an internship because I am transitioning into a new career. So far, it’s working quite well. To anyone who wants to try this, you need guts and be organized. Approach it like a job. Smile when you pick up the phone and you’ll feel at ease pitching (it works for me, i taped myself and sounded so much better). Back to the organization part, make sure you to keep an exhaustive list of all companies you have contacted and any feedback you may have gotten. Any chance you get to talk to a live person, or person capable of hiring is considered an interview. Tough but like Daren said, the rewards are immense. Good post Mr. Brabham.

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