As a freelancer who writes for a variety of different sources, I turn to Help a Reporter Out a lot.
I’m no veteran reporter at a city paper, slinking around a beat I’ve been casing for years. I write about almost everything, but I’m not an expert on every single subject under the sun.
I head to HARO to get commentary from people who know more about my project’s topic than I do— with the understanding, that there’s something in it for them, too. The professionals who reach out, along with the PR people they hire, are looking at my upcoming article as a way to get their names out there.
I know that’s how it works, and I’m totally fine with it. I’m happy to help you promote your product or business; you’re scratching my back, so why shouldn’t I scratch yours?
However, there are some things I wish more HARO responders considered before they pressed the “send” key. Here are four of them:
1. Your pitch should be relevant.
I have gotten out-of-left-field HARO responses. For example, I once 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 than women.
Though you lose 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, and I might be able to tweak my angle so your person or product fits in it, make sure you’re in the same ballpark as my request.
If I’m asking about X and you’re advertising not Y, but Y in a different alphabet, it wastes both my time and yours.
2. Honor the type of response requested.
If I’m looking for someone to interview, a giant wall of text is likely to be deleted. If I request a pre-generated statement, I’m probably under a tight deadline that won’t let 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. Lead with your credentials.
When I quote a source, I’m staking my reputation that person’s expertise. Therefore, I set the bar pretty high when it comes to qualifications.
If I ask for responses from climate change experts, I’m not quoting a college student majoring in environmental science, no matter how prestigious the university. Credentials can 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.
4. Provide the correct link or title up front.
More than once, a source wanted me to include a different link than the one he or she included in the response signature—but told me so after I submitted my copy to the editor.
A link to your website isn’t guaranteed in the first place, but if I can include it, make sure it’s the right one. If you want me to use a specific title or verbiage, let me know ahead of time—or better yet, ensure that you identify yourself and your business appropriately in the first place.
Jamie Cattanach is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Penny Hoarder, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.