The debate that started when I wrote about how much Help A Reporter Out (HARO) has or hasn’t changed since PR software company Vocus bought it from Peter Shankman last year is still happening. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can check it out here.
Meanwhile, reporters and freelance writers continue to rely on HARO when they’re searching for story sources. I thought it would be helpful to share tips for getting the most out of HARO queries that Shankman walked me through when I interviewed him last week.
Here are Peter Shankman’s secrets for getting the most out of HARO:
1. Fill out the query form completely. Forms with missing data are flagged for review, which means your query could go out later than you anticipated.
2. Make queries extremely specific. Not just extremely specific “ridiculously specific, obscenely specific,” Shankman says. The more specific you are, the more potential sources will know about what you’re looking for and whether they’re a match.
3. Keep queries short. HARO’s query form doesn’t have a maximum word count, but write too much and you risk potential sources not reading through the whole thing, Shankman says.
4. Include the name of the publication. Some newspapers and magazines don’t like staff writers or freelancers to reveal the name of the publication in their queries, for competitive or other reasons. But if they don’t, they risk having sources ignore them, Shankman says. His experience has shown that including the publication’s name works in a writer’s favor. “The ones from big outlets tell us when they include their media outlet they get 10 times the results as when they don’t,” he says. Some PR departments or agencies who track HARO queries for their companies or clients won’t respond to a request if they don’t know where it’s coming from, says Frank Strong, a Vocus spokesman who participated in the interview. “I am always hesitant when I see an unnamed publication, because you don’t know who it is you’d talking to, what their credibility is or who’s are the people behind it,” he says.
5. Fudge the query deadline. Yes, that’s right, the founder and manager of HARO suggests that writers cheat on the date by which they need to hear from sources. “Don’t put down the deadline of when your story’s due, but the deadline by which you want responses,” Shankman says. And if you’re on deadline, mark your query as urgent and HARO could end up sharing it on Twitter.
6. Don’t ask for free stuff. To keep amateurs and unscrupulous characters from misusing the service, HARO’s staff flags queries that include requests for free products or services, such as computer or video gaming equipment. You may review products for a computer magazine for a living and have a 100 percent legitimate reason for making such requests. But know that if you do, your query could undergo additional scrutiny, which could delay when it’s circulated.
7. Flag HARO staff about off-topic pitches. HARO’s source network now numbers more than 150,000, and writers I’ve heard from before and after Monday’s HARO post came out have said they’re getting more spam than ever, something they attribute to HARO but Shankman and Strong adamantly deny. According to Shankman, the best mechanism for policing sources who respond to queries with off-topic pitches or spam is to send an email to email@example.com with the particulars of the situation. First offenses merit a warning; if they continue, HARO could ban an individual or the agency they work for. “There are two PR firms that can’t use HARO. It’s been that way from the beginning,” he says.
8. Manage your expectations. Although HARO has 150,000 sources, 75 percent of them are small businesses. If you’re looking for a source on an esoteric academic subject, HARO might not be the best place to find a source. “It’s a numbers game” like any other avenue you use to find sources, Shankman says. “If you want someone who’s visited New York it’s one thing, but if you want a biochemist who works with heavy metals you won’t get that many. In that case, you might be better off using ProfNet,” HARO’s more academically-inclined competitor.
Do you have your own secrets for getting the most from HARO queries? Please share by leaving a comment.