Yes, it's true. There is a very simple way to make the media come to you, and all it requires is your email address. Too good to be true? Not at all!
I've been using this method for well over a decade, way back when I was a young pup at a boutique PR firm that focused on restaurants and hospitality clients. (We ate really well.)
HARO is a way for journalists and bloggers to find sources for their articles. Literally three times per day Monday through Friday, you can receive emails that state the journalist's name, media outlet, and what information they need from a potential source.
Seriously, could it get any better? Oh, wait—did I mention that it's FREE?
I used this service for clients when I was in public relations, and then later when I was running the communications department at an eco-organization, and also at my last job as an event marketing director.
So, when I started Signify, it was a no-brainer to use HARO to initially help get my name out. This is a large reason why you'll see media logos on my About page. I launched my website last February, and within a couple of months, I had half a dozen media mentions.
Why Do You Need Publicity?
Well, no one needs publicity for their nonprofit or social enterprise, but it sure is nice!
Being mentioned by the media can:
Give you credibility or "social proof," showing that others are endorsing you or your work.
Get links back to your website which increases your SEO.
Attract more fans and followers to your social media.
Help get your name out if your organization is small, in a growth phase, or just getting started.
Responding to HARO Inquiries
These are the most important tips to keep in mind when you respond to a HARO inquiry:
First of all, notice the deadline. Let me repeat that: note the deadline! Many of them only give you a day or two notice, and some may even only give you a few hours if they're on a tight deadline. (FYI, if you respond past the listed date and time, it's likely the email address will be dead anyway because they look more like Craigslist's generate emails than email@example.com.)
Make sure you're a good fit for the article. Do not waste a journalist's time, or yours.
Be short and to the point. Answer their questions or query well, but don't be too wordy. You'll often see them note the word or sentence count that they're looking for in responses. Stick to that, or you're likely to just get deleted.
Read all their requirements. Be sure to hit every point in your response. And, for example, if they say to include your name, email, and website link, I like to list those in a list or with bullets rather than in a sentence.
Be as helpful as possible. You can include links if that further supports your response, but they do not like attachments. For this reason, if they ask for a head shot, it's best to have yours stored on Dropbox or Google Drive and just include the link.
I also like to use humor when possible to stand out, or try to come at the article with a different perspective or angle than I think they'll receive from everyone else.
There are a lot of formulas for pitching, and a quick Google search will give you thousands of results. But since you guys aren't publicists or freelance writers, let's just keep it simple, shall we?
Here are the basic components, but depending on what's asked for, this could shift a little:
I start most every pitch with what I do in a nutshell. This is only one sentence, and you'll find it below.
Get to answering their query as quickly and simply as possible. Try for just a few sentences, unless they say it can be several paragraphs.
Include any other info they've asked for like a headshot or website link.
Depending on the request, you may want to include availability for when you can chat if they said they'll follow up with the right people by phone. Again, read the listing carefully, and if they need to talk by phone, don't forget your time zone!
I always end with something about hoping they have a good day, or get the responses they need, etc. It's just a well wish for them, and recognizing there is a person on the other end.
More Best Practices
Keep in mind that these people are from all kinds of media outlets and are writing all kinds of stories. So, you'll have to wade through 99% of them to find stories that you might be a good fit for. And that means 99% of ALL emails you get from them, not each email. Most of the time, unless you have a really broad topic or just want practice replying, it will be irrelevant to you. But there are opportunities that are certainly worth the wait!
And until you get used to the frequency, it can get overwhelming on busy days when you receive three emails per day from them. If you let HARO emails pile up, which I've done many times, just delete them and start over because most of the deadlines have already passed anyway.
If you're really active on social media, you might also consider following HARO there. This is one of the best ways to find last-minute stories. And if those are a good fit, you're more likely to make the cut due to the quick deadline and other people just not seeing it.
Oh, and if you do get chosen, be kind and promote the blog or article. For one thing, it's just polite, and you'd want the same courtesy. Additionally, it again looks good for your audience to see that you've received some publicity. And finally, it can lead to repeat opportunities with that media outlet, journalist, or blogger.
First of all, you won't get picked every time you respond to a query. Yep, it's just like fifth grade kickball. Each listing receive get dozens or even hundreds of responses, so sometimes it just comes down to if the journalist or blogger thinks that you're the right fit. The other half of the equation is, of course, making sure your pitch is carefully thought out and well-executed. Do your part!
Additionally, don't disregard media outlets that you've never heard of or those listed as "anonymous." You must have a fairly good-sized web presence to even create a HARO listing. So, people are still going to see your name out there online, and you just never know what that might do. It could be as small as new social media followers, or as large as you can imagine.
And when you're getting started, I recommend answering every inquiry you can. Of course, you must be a good fit! Again, you don't want to waste the journalist's time. However, just the practice of responding and honing your pitch will be terrific practice for when you see opportunities that you really want.
It was through this process that I refined my elevator pitch for Signify. (In case you're wondering, it's "I'm a copywriter and consultant who helps nonprofits and social enterprises get noticed and grow through effective marketing and communications." <-- That went through a lot of drafts before it ended up here, and HARO really helped me.)
One final note: hopefully, you'll hear back from the journalist or blogger if they use your information, but that's not always the case. That's why it's important to set up alerts for when your name, nonprofit, or social enterprise is mentioned online. Google Alerts has become really unreliable over the past few years, so I've turned to TalkWalker. I know this doesn't catch all media mentions either, but it is free, and I'm not ready to pay for a service yet. :)
And if using HARO works for you, I'd love to hear about it! See you out there!
By the way, this is the second week of our March PR series. Be sure to sign up to receive blog posts so you don't miss parts three and four! Catch up on using public relations in social media right here.
Read all posts in this PR series:
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.