HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a newsletter service that connects journalists with expert sources. Learn how to find the right HARO queries and write effective responses that will help you get more PR for your business.
Founded by Peter Shankman nine years ago, HARO (Help a Reporter Out) turned the PR industry on its head. At its heart, it’s a stunningly simple concept: Journalists can send out (free!) requests for sources who meet the requirements for articles they’re writing; potential sources can scan through the (free!) queries and respond to the ones that fit the bill. Journalists find the sources they need, and sources get easy press.
Previously, PR pros and would-be sources had to pay hefty fees for access to journalists looking for sources through premium membership services. With HARO, there’s no buy-in: Anyone can be an expert.
Problem is, just about everyone is. Now owned by the PR giant Cision, HARO plays matchmaker between 35,000 journalists and nearly half a million sources with its three daily newsletters.
So if you’re looking for press for your own business, how can you compete with the hordes of fellow “experts” out there to land a coveted press mention?
At Eucalypt, we operate on both sides: We’ve seen the flood of inquiries that come in as journalists, and we’ve spent time on the source side, doing our best to find opportunities for ourselves and our clients that are worth our time and effort.
Here are our tips for optimizing your chances of getting a press mention through HARO that will make a difference for your business. (Including a few ideas from active journalists who use the service regularly.)
Reporters, more often than not, are in a rush. They want to get the expert tips they need to pull their piece together ASAP. So even though the deadline on a query may say it’s not due for another three days, if they get good responses coming in 15 minutes after the query goes out, they’re not going to wait around for stragglers.
That means you, expert source, need to be on top of things: Check the HARO newsletter each time it comes out, three times a day, and keep an eye on HARO’s Twitter feed for urgent queries. Give yourself an hour, maybe two, to send your response from the time you see it appear in your inbox; maybe a little longer if it’s a query with a much more niche audience that you know won’t get hundreds of responses. Always remember, the clock is ticking, and the farther down you land in the writer’s inbox, the lower your odds may be.
Found something that seems like a fit? Before responding, check the fine print. Just because you have an opinion on 401(k) fund fees, that doesn’t mean you’re a fit for a journalist’s article unless you’re a recognized financial expert. Pay attention to the specific details about who the writer is looking for a response from, or you’re wasting her time (and your own) by writing to her.
“I put very narrow specs on those from whom I want a response,” says Nancy LaFever, a freelance writer who posts on HARO. “Recently, I've found you have to be super blunt to deter off-topic and PR folks.”
To showcase your credentials, add a quick line or two about your background in the first line before launching into your pitch, but don’t go overboard. Provide a link to your website so the writer can get the full context on whether you’re a fit.
Found a bunch of queries you’re qualified to respond to? Now you need to decide whether they meet your qualifications.
It’s important to think strategically about what to respond to, and how to position yourself. There may be some queries that you do have expertise around—but does it always make sense to respond to them? For instance, a national women’s publication is looking for someone who’s gone through a divorce to talk about sharing custody of a pet. Just because you may fit the bill here, is this how you want to present yourself, when it will likely do nothing for your business reputation? (Unless you now run a mediation practice focused on pet custody. Then go for it, by all means.)
Instead, drill down on the opportunities that are focused specifically on your business niche and the audience that you’re trying to reach. Ask yourself these questions:
Does it reach my target audience? If you’re a technology executive, you might give a miss to an article for a publication focused on job-hunting millennials, and instead keep track of PR opps for platforms aimed at serious IT professionals.
How popular is the publication? You can use Alexa.com to evaluate how popular a particular website is: The closer it is to #1, the better. While the tool’s accuracy is debatable, if the website is in the hundreds of thousands, it may not be worth considering unless it targets a valuable niche audience you’re trying to pursue. If it’s a print publication, the site’s page for potential advertisers should give clues as to its readership numbers.
Is there SEO value in the backlinks? Many, but not all, sites will provide you with a “dofollow” backlink that can give your own site’s domain authority a boost when they include your quote with a link to your site. Take a look at the site’s existing content to see how they treat sources: U.S. News and World Report, for instance, does not include backlinks at all (but it can still be a good publication to brag about to your friends). You can use a SEO tool like the Moz toolbar to evaluate how links to outside sites are treated, and to find out the publication’s domain authority, to understand the impact a link might have on your own SEO profile.
In some cases, the query may be listed as “Anonymous.” You can try to inquire for more information from the reporter, but chances are, she’ll receive enough responses that she won’t bother getting back to you. In this case, take a shot at responding if the query seems relevant enough—you may hit the jackpot with a top-tier publication that wants to stay stealth.
Sometimes, reporters may come to HARO seeking out experts or sources who fit certain criteria, and are happy to read a basic bio and follow up by phone with anyone who suits their purposes—but more often than not, they’re seeking something quotable right off the bat. So if you’ve found a pitch that’s worth responding to, you’ll need to deliver the goods.
“I almost always ask the sources to include a few comments in their response,” says freelance writer Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick. “Those that do not are like people who send boilerplate resumes: I notice the lack of effort and I delete. It's essential to address the questions or points that a writer has posed in their query, just like answering a job ad.”
Pay attention to what the question is actually asking, and provide an insightful, relevant response in a few lines or less. Imagine it as a bullet point in an article; that’s what it’ll likely be if it’s chosen for publication. For instance, here’s what I wrote to a reporter who was seeking tips on resolutions for improving your website for an article on a major technology web publication:
I run a content marketing agency, Eucalypt Media <http://eucalyptmedia.com>, based in Scarborough, Maine, that works with corporate and nonprofit clients including universities, nonprofit organizations, large businesses, and tech startups. Here's my tip:
- Conduct a content audit of your website. Look over your existing content assets to see what's no longer current or doesn't fit with your agenda for the coming year, and create a spreadsheet where you can mark each page to keep, revise, or delete. This will help you refine your site navigation and improve the user experience, and can give you inspiration for repurposing existing content that's not currently getting much attention.
- Kathryn Hawkins, principal and content marketing strategist, Eucalypt Media
The majority of my response was published verbatim in her resulting article.
Express your point clearly and concisely. The writer wants to quote you directly; she shouldn’t need to translate your words to make them work for an article. If you ramble or are overly vague in your response, expect to get skipped over.
If you’re not confident that your copy will make the cut, it may be worth shooting over your draft to a writer friend to wordsmith, or keeping an agency on retainer to help you nail down the lingo at a moment’s notice. But don’t rely on a PR firm to write the content without your input: A generic, canned pitch will fail to impress. You can’t outsource expertise.
So you’ve found the right opportunity and sent a killer pitch—but you’re still getting crickets in response.
What’s the problem? Your online presence (or lack thereof) could be working against you.
As McGorelick says, “Paragraphs about your credentials or where else you have been featured are mostly irrelevant. I'm going to Google the source first anyway before I respond to them.”
Any good journalist will take a look at your website and see what they can find out about you—so make sure it shows your best side. Your brand should have a clear, elegant website that helps to establish your expertise as an industry thought leader—showcasing articles you’ve written, conferences you’ve spoken at, and testimonials from your clients or customers.
It’s also worth noting that many journalists seeking sources won’t venture to HARO at all: Instead, they’ll Google around for articles related to their topic of choice, and reach out directly to people who’ve written on the subject previously. That’s how I got quoted by MarketWatch for an article on hairdressers, despite never having spent a day working in a salon—the reporter had seen one of the many small business articles I’d written for Intuit’s Quickbooks blog (this one on why hair salons are recession-proof), and reached out to me.
Getting the right PR—the kind that will boost credibility and get your business noticed—starts with a strong thought leadership strategy, which might include blogging on your own site and relevant guest blog opportunities, as well as speaking, videos, and podcasts in some cases. Build a solid foundation, then tap into HARO for an extra boost, and you’ll soon be getting kudos as a go-to expert in your space.
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