Well-placed press coverage can go a long way toward building buzz about your business. The good news: You no longer have to bust your marketing budget to get it. The online era has put more tools than ever at your disposal for connecting with the media. Help a Reporter Out, better known as HARO, is perhaps the best of them. More than 29,000 journalists (and counting) submit queries to HARO when they need sources for stories. And you could be one of those sources.
A key advantage of HARO for smaller businesses is that instead of sending out cold, desperate, over-the-transom pitches, you can use the service to respond to active media requests. In sales lingo, these are known as qualified leads. Larger companies pay big bucks for this kind of PR, but HARO is free.
Here are five tips for getting started with — and getting the most out of — HARO.
- Sign up. It sounds basic, but you can’t get going without signing up. Be sure to do so as a source, and follow HARO’s guidelines on acceptable email aliases. You’ll start receiving HARO’s queries email, which goes out three times a day on weekdays and features a list of new, active pitches grouped by business category. You may also want to follow HARO on Twitter, where it tweets urgent, deadline-driven pitches. Before diving in, take time to develop a feel for the kinds of pitches and publications that are out there.
- Keep responses short and specific. Answering a query with 1,000 words about your business is too much — and assures a quick trip to the rejection pile. Meanwhile, “I’m Jane Doe and run a small accounting firm” is probably not enough. If a reporter expresses an interest in, say, speaking with CPA about foreign taxation, a brief reply that’s appropriate for the pitch and demonstrates your expertise is ideal: “I’m Jane Doe, and my 15-year-old firm, Sunshine Accounting, helps multiple clients manage foreign tax situations. I’d be happy to answer questions on the topic.”
- Lay off the hard sell. A writer’s inbox is inundated with unsolicited PR pitches, in the same way that yours is likely overwhelmed with sales spiels from vendors. These pitches share a common voice: This Is The Greatest Thing Ever and a Story You Must Cover. Rarely is either actually true. Skip the hard sell when responding to requests. The beauty of HARO is that you can respond in a meaningful way to relevant queries rather than throw darts at the PR board. Publicity for you and your business will come naturally if reporters pick you to interview, which they’re more likely to do if your response provides clear, professional value instead of a promotional message.
- Be choosy. A good rule of thumb: Read a query twice before deciding to respond. Your success rate is likely to increase if you stick with pitches that closely match your particular business and expertise. If you’re the leading authority on apples and see a request for an expert on pears, it’s not an efficient use of anyone’s time to answer, “They’re both fruits, so I thought I might be a good fit.” This type of reply risks irking a reporter who may otherwise be interested in speaking with you for a different story down the line.
- Don’t sweat non-responses. Did you write a perfect response to a relevant query and hear nothing back? Don’t lose sleep over it. It’s not personal, and it may have nothing to do your pitch. Perhaps the reporter was on a tight deadline, overwhelmed with qualified responses (dozen or hundreds of replies are common), or simply took the story in a different direction. Move on to the next opportunity. If you never receive a response over a long period of time, take a step back and rethink your approach. Ask someone else to look at your messaging and provide objective feedback on how you might improve it.
Want more advice on building buzz? Check out 5 Ways to Score Media Coverage for Your Small Business.