Hands down, Help A Reporter Out, better known as HARO and owned by Vocus, is the best free way I know to have a chance at being included in a major media story. As a small-business owner, you can’t beat this simple e-mail service that arrives in your inbox one or more times a day.
HARO is a free service that sends you queries from journalists and professional bloggers about stories or posts in progress. You then have the option to submit a response to the query and, if the reporter chooses, to have your company included in the article. As a small-business owner, I receive three summaries each day of all the queries in categories that interest me.
Here is what it looks like:
********* INDEX ***********
Business and Finance
1) Living at college for less (Pittsburgh Parent Magazine)
2) Need Expert on Economics of Open Access (EContent - Online)
3) Casting U.S. companies who could benefit from an Executive Coach (Major cable TV network)
4) Unusual bank fees (Bankrate)
5) Small Business Stupid Mistakes (WSJ Column)
6) Social media, recruiting, and referrals (Workforce Management - Online)
Usually it goes for 19 or 20 queries. Let’s look at just a bit of #6. It will tell you the reporter, the publication name, the deadline, then details of the query:
“I'm doing a piece for Workforce Management on the growing reliance on referrals as part of the recruiting strategy, and how companies and employees are using social media sites, including facebook and Linked In to share job opportunities and requests with their networks.
I'm looking for a couple of HR/recruiting leaders or their employees to talk about how employees spread the word about jobs via social media, how that is helping them meet recruiting goals, as well as the pitfalls or risks involved with such recruiting strategies.”
To make the most of HARO, here are my three tips on how to use the service to get media coverage.
1. Keep your pitch brief and on-target. As a journalist, when I use HARO for my work, I receive between 20 and 150 e-mails, usually within an hour. So that might seem as if I’m not going to get through them all, but I read or scan all of them. I have a pretty strong filter for jargon and an itchy “delete” finger. Most queries are detailed enough, as above, that you know if you fit and if you can add value. Stay focused in your e-mail. Within that, know the rules. HARO will boot you off the service if you break them.
2. Read every HARO e-mail. They are organized, as above, and take only moments to scan. Even if you click on one and go a little deeper, you’ve spent less than two minutes reading a query. It's time well spent.
3. The queries may not match your expertise, but you may have someone in your network who can benefit. Pay it forward. You can’t post HARO queries in public forums, on the Web, or you’ll get banned. But you can send it via e-mail to a friend or colleague who can answer it. I sometimes receive e-mails that make an introduction to the right person.
By making contact with the reporter and showing you know how to be a resource; you begin a new relationship with a journalist or blogger who may call you back when the story is centered on your expertise. So, don’t miss the opportunity to network. I haven’t found a more valuable free service in all my years as a small-business owner and as a journalist. HARO is worth its weight in gold.
Hubspot has a terrific document you can download, for free, called How to Leverage Social Media for Public Relations Success that was published in 2010. A few of the links go to now-defunct sites, but most of it is still relevant and useful. It includes a brief description about HARO.