As a business or blogger, positive PR and online exposure is a must. It’s one of the keys to building credibility, generating organic traffic, and introducing new customers into your brand’s ecosystem.
But if you don’t have many connections, or if your brand is still relatively small and “under the radar,” you probably assume you don’t stand much of a chance of being featured in The New York Times or on CNN.
But that might not be true.
There are a number of strategies and platforms that make it possible for even the smallest of brands to generate visibility and reach the masses. HARO is one of them.
The year was 2008 and PR aficionado Peter Shankman noticed a shift in the marketplace. He would receive a regular and steady influx of requests from members of the press – including reporters, editors, and publications – looking for stories and sources. The topics ranged from Fortune 100 businesses to gardening and everything in between.
And while Peter could occasionally connect a media member with a good source, he didn’t have the capacity to do it at scale. So he started brainstorming ideas.
At first, he simply compiled a daily digest of the requests he got and sent them out to his rather large subscriber list of experts and PR professionals. Then, as he saw how effective this impromptu matchmaking service was, he decided to expand it into a full-blown platform.
It was out of this idea that Help a Reporter Out – better known by the acronym of HARO – was born.
In the simplest form, HARO is a popular online service that journalists and other media members use to gather feedback, collect quotes, and engage expert sources for new pieces and articles.
HARO is a mutually beneficial database of sources for stories and it rewards people for their willingness to help. Media members benefit by getting sources for their stories (making it easier to write compelling and authoritative pieces) without having to expend tons of energy tracking down sources. Businesses, entrepreneurs, and experts benefit by getting exposure in authoritative publications.
Anyone can sign up to be a part of HARO. While it was originally designed for journalists, it’s used by reporters, influencers, bloggers, content writers, brands, and other media players. It can be used by brands looking for backlinks for SEO and exposure, websites that need guest bloggers or content, and even non-profit businesses that need visibility and buzz.
HARO emails are sent out three times daily, Monday through Friday. While the list is so large now that emails often get sent at different times, the typical time slots have been 5:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 5:45 p.m.
Each email contains a number of queries from experts on trending topics. Each query includes a topic, deadline, and anonymous email address so that people can pitch their expertise and provide commentary.
As a business owner, blogger, or brand looking for exposure, the goal is to identify queries that match your expertise and then make a pitch as to why you should be interviewed, quoted, or referenced as an expert.
With the rapid growth of HARO over the past few years, it’s becoming more competitive to earn opportunities. This makes the pitching process even more important.
There are more than 55,000 journalists and bloggers using HARO. It’s easy to join their ranks. Here’s how it works:
The key to being successful with HARO is to act quickly and with precision. If you find a topic that you have knowledge on, be sure to read all of the details very carefully.
The journalist or blogger on the other end is likely to get dozens or hundreds of responses. In order to be noticed, you’ll have to show attention to detail. You’ll also need to create a compelling pitch that resonates. (More on that later in the article.)
Used strategically, HARO can act as your own media outreach and PR team. Potential benefits include:
While these benefits are attainable, you shouldn’t expect HARO to be easy or hands-off. It takes a lot of work, time, and energy to get connected with the right journalists and stories. But once you figure out the secret formula of pitching them, a whole new world of opportunity emerges.
As you’ve likely picked up on by now, the key to successfully leveraging HARO is to learn how to pitch reporters in order to be chosen as a source. Here are a few of our top suggestions:
Attention to detail is extremely important. A HARO reporter is going to get dozens (if not hundreds) of replies to a query. If you can’t follow their basic instructions, you will miss out on the opportunity.
Read every single word of the query…then read it again. Some requests might even include a hidden statement in the middle of the query to include a secret word in your response. This is designed to help reporters weed out people who are only skimming the query and don’t actually read it all the way through.
Don’t rush your response, but do move quickly. Reporters are often working on tight deadlines where they need to have a story ready in 12 to 24 hours. If you don’t give them a response within a couple of hours, they’re probably going to go with one of the other resources they have. (This isn’t always true, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Unless otherwise stated, assume that they need a source right away.)
There are two main components of your reply that a reporter is looking for: substance, credibility and expertise. Substance refers to the message. Credibility basically answers the question, why should my audience care?
Your reply to a HARO reporter is not the place to be modest or reserved. Brag on yourself and share your credentials. Use specific numbers, data points, and past accomplishments when relevant. It’s better to come off as slightly arrogant and full of yourself than it is to look unprepared and not credible.
With as many responses as a HARO reporter is going to get, you have to find a way to stand out. Humor, clever wording, or a unique angle is a great way to hook them in and make your pitch stand out. (Having said that, you should always be cognizant of the topic and subject matter. If it’s a serious topic, keep a professional tone. Flippancy is not attractive to a journalist.)
Keep your pitch as short as possible, while still communicating everything you need to say. Avoid a long lead-in and get straight to the point.
Here’s an example of what not to do: “Hey, I got your query this morning and was so excited to see that someone else is passionate about raising goats. It’s such a cool little “hobby” and I don’t hear about it very often. Anyway, I sat down and started thinking, what’s my best advice for readers…”
Do this instead: “I’ve been a goat farmer for 20 years and currently have 43 of them on my farm. To answer your question, the best way to…”
See how long-winded and fluffy that first response is? Sure, the journalist can tell that you’re passionate about goats, but he has to weed through all of the platitudes just to get some substance. The second response builds credibility and dives right into the question.
Make it as easy as possible for the journalist to quote/reference you as a source by including your name, location, title, contact information, website URL, etc. If a reporter has to track down this information on their own, it’s less likely that they’ll use you as an expert resource.
Finally, avoid any attachments in your pitch. HARO will automatically strip these out. If you’re depending on an attachment, the reporter will be unable to access the information it contains. Stick to a concise yet informative response within the body of the message.
We’re a little bit leery of providing examples, because we don’t want you to copy and paste them. (Not because they’re secrets, but because you need to let your voice shine through.) Having said that, here is a quick illustration that you can reference to get a feel for what a good pitch looks like.
Query: We are writing a piece about first-time homebuyers and how they can avoid making major mistakes. We need someone to provide useful insights into tips for saving up for a down payment. Please provide information about who you are, why you’re a credible source, and what your best advice would be.
Information: John Smith, CFP, New York City, NY. (JohnSmithCFP.com)
There are a few things that make this pitch effective.
Again, this is just one example. You shouldn’t copy and paste it (or even use it as a template). The point is to show you how each of the aforementioned principles can be put into action to develop a compelling pitch that gets noticed.
While successful pitching is the key to getting results with HARO, you’ll also want to implement a solid strategy on the back end. This helps maximize your results. We recommend doing the following:
You might be surprised to learn that there isn’t a lot of hoopla after you get a mention. In fact, the reporter might not even let you know that they’ve used your quote or data. (Some will, but there’s no obligation. And since time is usually of the essence, they won’t always have space in their schedule to reach out.)
The best way to know if you’ve been used as a resource is to set up a Google Alert for your name, company name, and possibly the reporter’s name. This will help you stay informed when you are mentioned.
Getting mentioned once by a reporter increases your chances of getting mentioned again. It’s important to nurture your connections after the fact with strategic networking.
Don’t bombard a journalist, but do touch base every few months to let them know what you’re working on and that you have thoughts on specific topics and trends. You can also connect with them on LinkedIn to stay abreast of what sort of content they’re publishing.
Credibility and social proof are massive in today’s noisy business world. The more you can accumulate, the more trust you’ll establish with prospects and customers.
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