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 manage a 401(k).
No doubt, it’s a great tool for both journalists and PR professionals.
Though 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 email responses. The reporter then sifts them for the best quotes.
As a PR person, I get a regular stream of HARO emails, and although I carefully scan each one for client opportunities, I often opt to pursue them (or not) based on whether I would be wasting my clients’ time. The understanding is that there is no understanding, no assurance that my clients’ carefully crafted words won’t end up on the digital cutting room floor.
If some clients have responded before and have come up short, it can be difficult to get the same client’s attention when another reporter has genuine interest.
The best result for all involved is when the reporter does not rely on blind responses in the name of expediency, instead narrowing the PR pitches 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 has to say.
There are still no guarantees (that never changes), but it’s a better basis for clients to decide how to invest their time and energy doing research or preparation.
Here are a few tips for public relations professionals and journalists to help ensure both are getting the most out of their HARO relationship:
For PR pros
1. Respond to queries only if 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 an author who may simply have written about the topic.
2. When you respond, make sure you can address the specifics cited 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. Offer specifics and details without being verbose. Address specific topics or questions based on your encyclopedic understanding of your client. Remind the reporter that the client has even more to offer.
4. Wait to engage your client. Once the reporter expresses interest in your client’s unique point of view, then loop the client in. It’s not worth doing so if the opportunity might not go anywhere.
5. Manage expectations. Remind your clients that even when reporters express an interest in their input, there is no guarantee that they will see their comments in the final story or report.
1. Know that your potentially best subject matter experts are busy, too. You might miss out on some exceptional quotes by taking an “accept all comers” approach to responses.
2. Include as much detail as possible, but don’t require the topic expert to make initial contact. A good PR person should be able to connect you with the best possible sources so you won’t have to sort through endless blind responses.
3. Know that when PR pros or subject experts respond, they are helping you do your job. Recognizing their investment in your interactions goes a long way toward building a stable of high-quality, reliable sources for future stories.
When the impersonal give-and-take of a blind HARO query is replaced with honest, personal relationship-building based on trust and understanding, the final product is sure to be better.
Note: In addition to HARO, you can use Muck Rack to find source requests from journalists on Twitter. Request a demo.
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications. He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist. A version of this article first 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.