More than a few reporters have come to rely on Help A Reporter Out (HARO) to quickly put together stories ranging from new back-to-school products to how to best manage your 401(k).
No doubt, it's a great tool for both journalists and PR professionals.
While each reporter may have a unique approach, a common one is to post a query that lists a series of questions for general or blind email response. The expectation is that an army of PR people will flood the reporter with more email responses than are needed. The reporter then sifts through all of the emails to find the best quotes and use those.
As a PR person, I get a regular stream of HARO emails in my inbox, and while I carefully scan each one for client opportunities, I often have to decide whether to pursue them based on whether I would be wasting my clients’ time. The understanding is there is no understanding – there is no assurance that my clients’ carefully crafted words won’t be left on the digital cutting room floor.
As the cliché goes, that’s the risk you take.
For this reason, some of the better resources, who are just as busy as the rest of us, are forced to decide whether this is the best use of their time. That’s why if some clients have tried to respond before and come up short, it can become more difficult to get the same client’s attention when another reporter actually does have a genuine interest.
I’ve found the best result for all parties involved is when the reporter does not rely on blind responses in the name of expediency, but narrows the PR pitches down to a few before engaging a telephone interview or e-interview. That way, the client knows that the reporter has at least a general interest in what he or she, specifically, has to say.
While it is still understood there are no guarantees (that never changes), it’s a better basis for clients to decide how to invest their time and energies doing research or preparation.
1. Only respond to HARO queries where your client is a credible subject matter expert. If the query specifically says it wants “real people” who can be featured in the story, it’s not worth the reporter’s time and energy to offer up a book author who may have written about the topic.
2. When you respond to a HARO query, make sure you can address the specifics listed in the query. Just generally offering your client as an “expert” on everything listed is not enough to make any reporter want to follow-up.
3. Be as specific and detailed as possible without being overly verbose in your response to queries. Address specific topics or questions based on your encyclopedic understanding of your client, and then make sure to remind the reporter that the client has even more to offer.
4. Engage your client once the reporter lets you know that he or she is interested in what your client’s unique point of view may be. It's not worth looping them in if the opportunity may not go anywhere.
5. Manage expectations. Remind your client that even when reporters express an interest in your client’s input, there are never any guarantees that they will see their comments in the final story or report.
1. Know that your potentially best subject matter experts are just as busy as you. If you want quality quotes, you may be missing some if you take an “accept all comers” approach to HARO response.
2. Make the best use of your time by listing your questions with as much detail as possible, but not necessarily requiring actual the source-for-attribution to make the initial contact with you. A good PR person should be able to connect you with the best possible sources without the need for you to sort through an endless number of blind responses to your query.
3. Know that when public relations professionals or subject matter experts respond to your query they are making an unconditional investment in helping your do your job. Recognizing this in your interactions goes a long way towards building a stable of quality, reliable sources for future stories.
In the end, when the impersonal give-and-take of a blind HARO query is replaced by honest-to-goodness, personal relationship-building, based on trust and understanding, the final product is sure to be better.
Editor's Note: *Cough, Cough* HARO is an awesome tool, but we would be remiss if we didn't remind you that you can use Muck Rack to find source requests from journalists on Twitter ;) Curious how that works? We'd love to show you Muck Rack!
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy. He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist.
Photo: Journalist via Shutterstock