Want publicity for your business but can’t afford to hire a PR firm? How about helping a journalist?
An internet service called Help a Reporter Out, or HARO, can get you absolutely free publicity for your small business. If you have something to say about the topic, that is.
So what’s in it for you? Publicity. Exposure. Branding.
Marketing 101 would tell you that awareness is the first step before you can lead your consumers into buying your product or service. Any brand mention in any reputable source can go a long way, especially in the context of a shareable article. Being cited as a source can build credibility for you.
Photo credit: European Parliament / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Here’s how it works. There are two portals for HARO, one for reporters and one for you as a source. Reporters writing for a certain topic would post some queries, say, a report about the printing industry. If you own a printing company, you might want to share your insight to the reporter on industry standards and trends.
After signing up as a source, you would get daily emails containing questions that reporters submitted. The questions included in each email depends on the category you signed up for.
Each query starts with a summary of the topic, the name of the reporter and the media outlet they are writing for, and the query itself. You can then contact the reporter directly through a unique email generated by the site.
The queries are pretty straightforward. Here are some of the topics I got from the Business and Finance category:
- Small business owners who use power business intelligence tools
- Leadership: Importance of Soft Skills in leadership
- Looking for professionals in the investment industry to share their best ideas on the equity markets.
- Looking to speak with someone involved in a reverse mentor program
- Looking for small business owners that outsource some business tasks
‘Help a Reporter Out’ is an interesting business story unto itself.
It was founded early 2008 in Facebook by public relations expert Peter Shankman where he manually connected reporters, expert sources and people who would like to be quoted in one Facebook group.
Screenshot from Help a Reporter Out website.
When the group hit the Facebook group limit, it expanded to a mailing list and eventually grew to a website with nearly 30,000 news gatherers and over 100,000 news sources. It boasts $1 million dollars in yearly revenue.
According to its website, prominent news agencies such as Fox, ABC and Associated Press use their services. It has published over 75,000 journalist queries and promoted 1,500 brands.
Years ago, it was difficult for small business owners to get exposure to a large number of audience. They would usually rely on word of mouth or engage with promotions limited to their localities. News gatherers also had difficulty in gathering viable sources on topics, especially those requiring expert opinions.
Photo credit: rlanvin / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
The development of technology bridged this gap between journalists and sources.
In a sense, HARO created a sustainable social network where there is virtually infinite demand and supply.
The social network industry is sustainable only for as long as people are using social networking sites. Google Plus arguably failed to meet expectations. The initial buzz on newcomer Ello and its anti-Facebook stand is continuing to decline. Even Facebook faced declining stock price before it grew through an advertising overhaul in-site.
By creating a hub where both parties come together and interact, HARO made it possible to meet these mutual needs.
Of course, like any free service, it could be better.
It’s basically still a mailing list, only with a larger audience. The only customizable option for the free account is the category preference. Filters, customizable profiles, and even the search function are only available for paying customers.
The semi-anonymity that the site provides could also be used for spam. Without a proper fact-checking, reporters could get statements from non-authoritative sources. One guy even lied his way to major news outlets using the service.
For small businesses, however, the problem would be reaching out to supposed reporters and bloggers who engage in spammy actions in their site. This kind of PR could hit your credibility.
Photo credit: Pragmagraphr / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
If you finally decide on using HARO as a PR tool, here are some tips that you should consider to make it more effective:
- Try to be cautious with each reporter query, especially from anonymous sources. As much as possible, try to reach out to journalists who specify their name and the media outlet they are reporting for. You want to put your name on reputable media outlets and sites only.
- Take note of the reporter’s deadlines. More often than not, reporters have a deadline near the date when they post their query. Since most likely they would receive a lot of replies, you need to send them your email way ahead of the deadline. Answer their questions as soon as possible, but don’t sacrifice the content of your answer just to be the first to reply to their question.
- When you have selected the question you would like to answer, try to give a full statement. Answer the query as directly and as honestly as possible. You need to show the reporter that you are indeed an expert on the subject. Avoid saying “Contact me if you want my answer” or something similar. They’ll ignore your email and move on.
- State your full name and company as well as the way you want to be attributed to if you are chosen as a source. Link your website if you have one. Having an inbound link to your website would be helpful for your online visibility, especially in search engines like Google.
- Try to follow-up if you get quoted. Ask for the link of the article where your quote would be included or the publication where it would be printed. Create a thank you note to the reporter through your social media channel.
Your aim should both be short-term and long-term. For the short-term, you want to be quoted and your brand or business mentioned. For the long-term, you want to build a relationship with the reporter good enough for you to be contacted in the future should a similar article topic is needed.
Have you used HARO for your business? How’d it go? Hit us in the comments!