What a journalist wants you to know about HARO

What a journalist wants you to know about HARO

As a freelancer who writes for a variety of different sources, I turn to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) a lot. After all, I’m no veteran reporter at a city paper, slinking around a beat I’ve been casing for years.

I write about…well, just about everything. And while I’m pretty awesome, I’m not an expert on every single subject under the sun. (Yet.)

So I head to HARO to get some commentary from people who know more about my project’s topic than I do -- with the understanding, of course, that there’s something in it for them, too.

The professionals who reach out to me, along with the the PR people they hire, are eager for press. They’re looking at my upcoming article as a way to get their name out there.

I know that’s how it works, and I’m totally fine with it. In fact, I’m happy to help you promote your product or business; you’re scratching my back, so why shouldn’t I scratch yours?

But there are some things I wish more HARO responders considered before they pressed the “send” key. Here are a few of them.

1. Your pitch should be at least kind of relevant

I have gotten some pretty darn left-field HARO responses. Like that time I asked for advice from personal finance experts on differentiating good debt from bad debt…and got a response from a guy trying to market his book about how men think differently (and, um, more clearly than?!) women.

On the one hand, I get it. You lose 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Maybe there’s some way I can finagle my angle so your person or product fits in it.

But if I’m asking about X and you’re advertising not Y, but Y in a different alphabet, it’s a pretty darn unlikely scenario -- and it ends up being a waste of both my time and yours.

2. Please pay attention to the type of response I’m asking for

A giant wall of text is likely to be deleted out of hand if I’m looking for someone to interview; if I request a pre-generated statement, I’m probably under a tight deadline that won’t allow me to reach out to your contact directly.

Either way, I’ll let you know what I’m looking for in the query…so please respond in kind!

3. It’s a decent idea to lead with your credentials

When I quote a source, I’m staking my reputation on her expertise, so I set the bar pretty high when it comes to qualifications.

That means if I’m asking for responses from climate change experts, I’m not going to quote a college student majoring in environmental science, no matter how prestigious the university.

But it also means that if you do have a great pedigree, it’ll go a long way toward getting you your mention… especially if you let me know at the top of the response rather than the bottom.

Hey, everyone appreciates a time-saver.

4. If you want a specific link or title, please let me know ASAP

It baffles me, but I’ve had it happen more than once that a responder wanted me to include different link than the one he included in his response signature...but told me so too late to make the change. I’d already submitted the copy to the editor.

A link to your website isn’t guaranteed in the first place, but if I can include it, I’d be happy for it to be the right one. Same goes for your title and company name.

So if, for some reason, you’d like me to use a specific title or verbiage, let me know ahead of time -- or better yet, just ensure that you identify yourself and your business appropriately in the first place.

Happy pitching!

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Penny Hoarder, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere. She lives in St. Augustine, Florida.

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