At TCF, we use HARO constantly. It’s one of our favorite tools because it’s basically a reporter’s Rolodex from the 90’s, except it doesn’t take up room on our desks, it’s always updated, and its reach is much further. Plus, it’s free!
In fact, we once used HARO to get 6 media placements in 30 days! You can read about our HARO experiment here, but suffice to say it works well when you work it right – and we’ve got some PR tips to share to help you make sure you’re getting the most ROI out of your HARO efforts.
For the writers on our staff, it’s arguably the best resource for reaching experts that might otherwise be impossible to contact. For our PR pros, it’s one of the most effective ways to spread our clients’ good word across the internet. For you, the aspiring business owner or PR pro for said aspiring business, it’s a great way to get media coverage for your company.
That is, of course, provided that writers are actually using your responses.
If you’ve been using HARO, but haven’t been getting any bites, we have 7 good ideas as to why — and 11 PR tips for how you can improve your responses for better results.
1. Your HARO Response Isn’t Actually a Pitch
Out of all the HARO pitching PR tips we have to offer, this one seems to be the most needed. This is because many of the HARO responses we receive aren’t actually pitches. They’re more like “this is how awesome I am, what do you want me to give you?” Take this one for example:
“What do you need from me?” We told you in the query exactly what we needed from you. Didn’t you read it?
HARO responses like this are deleted immediately. Some of our HARO queries yield hundreds of responses, which means we don’t have time to respond to potential sources to ask questions or to re-iterate what we already specified. That’s why we put out a HARO query instead of calling experts one by one. It’s quicker.
Here’s another example:
Again, we don’t have time to confirm your client would be a good fit for this article. It’s our job to determine if he’s a good fit based upon your HARO response — and since you didn’t follow instructions, we have no idea if he’s a good fit or not. But here’s an inside PR tip: we can tell you we’re not interested in being involved in an email chain trying to get a cohesive answer from you or your client.
We’re often on tight deadlines, so this time issue is very real. If an article is due on a Wednesday and the HARO Query ends at 7pm the night before, there will be no back and forth. Your response is either good enough or it’s not.
It’s rare that we’ll have full-blown email conversations with PR pros prior to an article going live. If we do, it’s because we’ve already decided we’re using them in the article, we have a pertinent question, and we have the time to do so.
2. Your HARO Response Is Completely Irrelevant
Some HARO responses aren’t at all relevant to the query, which means it’s completely unusable. As lifestyle writer extraordinaire Aly Walansky shared her PR tips with us in a previous post (and webinar). As she says, “If I’m writing about coffee cocktails, don’t pitch me about hot chocolate.”
We recognize that some PR folks are responding to any query they might find remotely relevant, but please, for all of our sakes, read the requirements on the query to make sure your client is a good fit beforehand.
This past June, one of our writers wrote a Father’s Day themed article about dads who are also entrepreneurs and their advice for other dads who may want to start their own businesses. The HARO query turned up lots of good, solid dad advice. But it also yielded stuff like this:
So you have a dad, but you are not actually a dad. This means your response does not meet the criteria we set forth, which was that you had “to be a dad who owns and operates a business.”
We can respect the hustle here, but this response is completely irrelevant. It was immediately filed to a folder called “Bad HARO Responses,” which was started after coming up with the idea for this article and where all of the screenshots came from. We don’t want you to end up in this folder!
3. Your HARO Response Is Actually a Question
We have some amazing PR pros on staff that hustle all day long, and we all see it in the earned media coverage they’re able to deliver for clients every single week. When our PR staff open up that HARO email three times a day, they’re doing their best to send out comprehensive and coherent responses, because that’s how it’s done (and how you get results).
They are definitely not sending these out:
Every HARO query is asking for some kind of information, so by asking another question, you’re not helping anyone. In general, responding to a question with another question is not a great practice because you’ve defeated the purpose of the query. Don’t do this.
And as far as asking what publication it’s for, as a general rule of thumb, a large portion of our HARO queries are listed as “anonymous,” regardless of how ‘big’ or ‘small’ the outlet is. We literally delete every single email that asks us what publication the query is for, rather than providing an actual response – we just don’t have time for the back and forth.
If we do respond to a PR professional to ask for further information and they inquire as to the publication, we will certainly tell them — but we never respond to emails like the one in the screenshot above. Either send out a pitch or don’t respond to anonymous queries, but remember that “anonymous outlet” doesn’t necessarily mean “crappy outlet.”
4. Your HARO Response Is Too Long
If one of our writers opens up a HARO response and it’s an entire page of text with no formatting, they’re immediately uninterested in reading it. Imagine if you went to a website from the 90s right now. It would look dated with its huge blocks of text, wouldn’t it? Well this is what your response looks like to us.
We need a paragraph explaining why you’re an expert in the topic we’re asking about, and then some quotable sentences that address the questions from the query. Sticking with the Father’s Day example from above — if we say we’re looking for dad advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, tell us how many kids you have and how long you’ve been running your business (with links to your website and social media profiles, please).
Then, tell us what advice you have. We don’t need Moby Dick in our inboxes (see the other comments regarding time constraints).
5. Your HARO Response Is Too Short
We know, we know. We just told you that your HARO response could be too long and now we’re telling you it could be too short. For examples, look at the screenshots above — pretty much all of them are good showings of what not to do.
You should really be aiming for a couple of well thought out paragraphs. A two-sentence response isn’t good enough, since it doesn’t give us enough information to assess whether or not you’re a good fit for the article. We might know your name and the company you’re trying to promote, but that’s it.
We need more information! This is supposed to be a pitch. Tell us why you’d be a good fit for this story. Tell us (based on the HARO query and its requirements) what makes you qualified to answer our questions.
6. There’s No Actual Information in Your Response
This is not what we mean by “keep it short:”
First of all, we have no idea what your product is. It might as well be Facebook (although we’re sure their PR pros aren’t writing HARO responses like this one). There is no information here, whatsoever. We would have to Google your product name to even find your website.
But more importantly, why are you making it more difficult for us to learn about your company? This could very well be a pet peeve among our writing staff, but please do not create different web pages we need to read.
We’d rather you copy and paste a press release into the HARO response. We can promise you this link was never clicked on, and the email was placed in our “Bad HARO” folder.
7. You Pitch Despite Having Major Restrictions on Where You’d Agree to Be Cited
Several times over the past year, we’ve received great pitches from sources that answer all of our questions and meet all our criteria, but don’t want to be quoted or linked in the actual article. This has happened a couple times for one of our clients that makes personal lubricant.
In one case, the pitch was from a dating site for Orthodox Jews. In the other, it was a conservative Christian couple with a YouTube channel. We reached out to both before we used their comments to make sure they were comfortable with being featured on the site, and both declined.
This was a major waste of the writer’s time (and theirs!). Here’s a quick and dirty PR tip: if your organization has qualms or restrictions about where you’re being quoted, you need to be more selective about responding to HARO requests. Remember how we said most of our queries are anonymous?
Well, even when we send queries for this client anonymously, we describe the type of site they’ll appear on (most anonymous queries do this). Please make sure you’ve thoroughly read a query before you reply.
Pro PR Tips: How to Get Reporters to Use Your HARO Responses
1.) Focus on two solid paragraphs. Tell us why you’re qualified to answer this question and then what you have to say about it. Be clear and concise, but above all, be quotable. Aly Walansky wants her sources to “start off with complete sentences” and be as close to grammatically correct as possible.
Why? Because all of these things make the writer’s job easier. We’re all on deadlines (Aly writes ten articles a week), so the more we can quote (i.e. copy and paste, preferably without fixing all of your terrible spelling and grammar), the better.
2.) Attachments don’t come through via HARO. So either skip them or make sure all the info on that all-important .pdf is copied and pasted into the body of your response.
3.) You can (and should) provide relevant links (such as your website and social media profiles — specifically, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), but HARO recommends you actually copy and paste the URL into the body of your response, as hyperlinks don’t always come through.
4.) It’s totally acceptable to have a template that you copy and paste into your responses, but make sure you read through it and cater to the exact query. We can always tell when you don’t.
5.) A PR pro recently responded (very well) to a HARO query. As we always do, we sent the article’s link to her when it went live. In her thank you email (another pro PR tip), she told us about two other clients of hers — just in case our writer had a use for them in the future.
This type of thing doesn’t happen very often (if ever), but we wish it did. As it happened, that writer did have another article coming up that might have been a good fit for them. She emailed her back to tell her about the new article and the PR pro connected her with one of two, who provided a wonderful answer and was, indeed, featured in that article.
Of all the pro PR tips we could give someone — coming from the perspective of a writer — this is one of the best. In less than five minutes, she not only saved our writer time, but she got her client some stellar PR. As a result, she landed herself on the “Good HARO Sources” spreadsheet, which means we may contact her again later if we need experts on another article.
6.) Along those same lines, pushing the parameters isn’t a bad thing. Dan Tynan, former editor of Yahoo! Tech and current reporter for The Guardian told us about a HARO response he received that was on topic, but perhaps a little further out than he was expecting. The query was about AI (artificial intelligence) and someone responded with a pitch about “augmented eternity.” While this could have fit into his article, he actually was able to turn it into a different article altogether.
Our own writers are also fans of his pro PR tip and we’ve employed the same strategy Dan did. Remember the PR pro who mentioned her other clients in a thank you email? One of them inspired an entirely different article.
7.) FMA all the way! First mover advantage is a real thing in life and it’s quantifiably beneficial in HARO-ville. Because writers are so burdened by time restraints it’s often the first responses that get selected, not necessarily the best. Granted, there have been times where (due to work overload) our PR pros have squeaked in under the wire with a HARO response. Here’s one of the best PR tips from our pros that consistently pays off: in general, our placement percentage is much higher when we stop what we’re doing and respond immediately to relevant HARO queries, making it a top priority on our to-do lists.
In cases where you simply can not respond immediately, set a calendar or alarm alert for yourself so that you won’t forget to reply. With HARO, once that deadline is up, you’re screwed. The only exception is the rare query where the writer includes their actual email address or their name (in which case it’s up to you to sleuth out their non-HARO contact advice and throw a hail Mary pitch).
8.) Make sure your responses are helpful, but also entertaining. If 5 sexperts give the same shower sex advice, you can bet the one with a cleverly worded spin on the advice will get higher priority. The journalists want their piece to shine, so do some of that heavy lifting for them by offering snappy, sparkling copy that they can plug and play.
9.) Don’t be coy about the fact that you’ll promote their article (if your quote and link are placed) and will send them traffic via your own socials. Plan to promote posts with your placement? Let them know that in your pitch — who would turn down free advertising? They’re often compensated (or at least evaluated) on the amount of clicks their posts get so be their BFF and guarantee them a few right off the bat.
10.) Make sure you follow through. Out of all the PR tips we have to offer, this is one of the most important because it frequently leads to increased coverage. When you do get placement (and you will if you follow the advice in this article) make good on your promise to promote the placement on your social accounts — not just once, but repeatedly.
Once you’ve posted a link to the placement, shouting out the writer and their outlet in tags, email them a quick thank you including the links to your posts promoting their article. This may seem like a lot of work on a busy week but imagine you’re that writer and someone provides that level of follow up and proof to you? You’d put them in your Good HARO spreadsheet in a heartbeat.
11.) Last but not least of the HARO PR tips, don’t just hit it and quit it — develop a relationship with the writer. This can be as simple as adding them to a journo list on your own Twitter account and touching base once a week or so on non-work related level. Like a photo of their cat. Send them a useful link that isn’t about your company. These are legit ways to earn cool points and have a writer in your pocket when you need a fave later on down the line.
What are your favorite pro PR tips? Tweet us @contentfac! Looking for a PR agency to handle this all for you? Give us a call – we’ve got transparent pricing and a long track record of making our clients (more) famous.