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Help A Reporter Out (HARO) was launched in 2008 as a way to connect reporters and experts needed for media stories, from television clips to online news articles.
Today, it’s one of the fastest growing publicity services online, and lawyers can use the platform as a cost-effective way to publicize their practice and display their expertise.
But it can also help in other ways. You can use the service to build media contacts, gain more search engine traffic and strengthen your reputation.
With everything it has to offer, HARO can become a significant aspect of your overall online marketing strategy. Here’s how to make it work.
HARO 101: The Basics
HARO helps reporters find sources for their stories, and helps sources – experts, business owners, professionals – get free publicity by being featured in news articles.
The service is used by hundreds of major online outlets, including Forbes, Gannet, Associated Press, Reuters and Fox. It’s also used by thousands of smaller publishers, like blogs, trade magazines and local radio stations.
How HARO Works
Every weekday, HARO send out three daily emails (5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m. and 5:35 p.m. EST) with queries, which are pitches from reporters who need information for their stories.
A query includes the reporter’s name, media outlet, deadline, summary of their needs, and any requirements for their sources.
An example of a query would look like:
Name: Joe Smith, Reporter for Popular Legal Website
Category: Business and Finance
Media Outlet: Popular Legal Website
Deadline: 7:00 PM EST – 20 February
Looking for lawyers who can comment on the legality of the delays given to various Affordable Care Act employer mandates.
Must be a lawyer who is familiar with administrative or healthcare law and is knowledgeable about the current status of the ACA and the delays for its employer mandates.
The emails are sent out to a list of people that have signed up as sources. From there, it’s simple: sources who can reliably comment on the topic can send an email to the reporter. The email is sent through an anonymized email, much the same way Craigslist handles initial emails.
The reporter can then sift through responses to find experts and information that best fit the needs of the story. Typically, the reporter gets in contact with the source if he or she has decided to use the source’s information.
When the article comes out, the source is cited as an expert, and boom — free publicity.
Who Can Use HARO?
Anyone can sign up to a source on HARO, but those with more experience, credentials or expertise are more likely to get the attention of reporters.
On the reporting side, there’s a list of query guidelines reporters must meet in order to have their queries sent out to sources. One major requirement is that the reporter’s website must have an Alexa.com ranking of one million or less. This ranking is loosely based on overall traffic to a site and prevents queries from bloggers who are writing for new or unestablished sites.
Why Use HARO?
For lawyers, the most beneficial part of HARO is getting free publicity. When you’re used as a source in the media, this can result in:
- Local or national promotion for your firm
- High-authority links to your website
- Additional media opportunities from other reporters
- Media mentions that can be used for testimonials or promo materials
On HARO’s website are a number of success stories: tales of companies that have had massive PR success simply from answering a query and being featured in media stories.
What Else You Should Know
Although use of the service is increasing, HARO still runs a tight ship. They only have a few rules:
- Do not spam reporters with off-topic pitches
- Don’t publicly share queries on the web (forwarding emails is fine)
- Don’t harvest reporter email addresses from queries
- “Be excellent to each other”
The HARO process is simple, but that doesn’t mean free publicity comes easy. Here’s what you can do to maximize the marketing value of HARO.
How to Use HARO as a Source
Success with HARO is essentially a numbers game. You might respond to ten queries in one week and only hear back from one or two reporters. The publicity you receive from those few opportunities, however, often makes up for the lack of response to your other emails.
Your job as a source is simple, then: to be the most appealing response to a query. Legal queries, especially those from large websites or publications, can yield anywhere from 20 to 50 or more responses, which means the amount of publicity you receive is largely based on your ability to stand out from the pack.
How do you do that? Make the reporter’s job as easy as possible. In my experience, working both as a source and a reporter, the most effective HARO responses are:
- Relevant – providing actual insight and expertise on the query
- Timely – sent back to the reporter as soon as possible
- Professional – written with proper grammar, formatting and information
- Direct – addresses the query immediately and doesn’t lose focus
- Non-promotional – reporters want information, not sales pitches
If you can craft a response that hits on all of the above, you have a much better chance of being the selected source for a story.
Sending an off-topic pitch is not only against HARO’s rules, it also annoys reporters to no end. They’re usually on deadlines or working on multiple stories, and irrelevant emails won’t do either of you any favors.
As you’re searching through HARO queries, look for topics that you can definitively comment on. If you’re not comfortable speaking to other experts about the topic, save your time and skip it.
Cast a deep net instead of a wide one, focusing on the areas you’re most familiar with and exercising patience. That’s not to say that you can’t be creative, however. If you handle your own online marketing, for example, then you may be able to comment on a query asking for online marketing tips.
In fact, applying your expertise to related queries like this can often get you better results because other lawyers aren’t looking at these queries.
The other factor in being relevant is providing actual expertise and information. Don’t send a BS pitch full of fluff and robotic quotes that sound like they’re taken from your firm’s latest press release. Reporters can recognize this type of pitch from a mile away, and it’s not likely to be included in a story.
Instead, make sure there’s a clear focus and take-away from your response. Ask yourself if you’d find the information useful had you been unaware of it. If you don’t have anything of value to offer, don’t bother responding.
Although there are deadlines attached to each query, ignore those and plan on responding to a query as soon as possible. When you find relevant queries, take enough time to compose a good response, but take no longer.
Even if a stated deadline is still days away, many reporters like to use the quality responses they receive first. Again, it’s about making their job as easy as possible. When you’re one of the first responses, and you offer solid insight, the writer may be more likely to include your information in an initial draft of the story.
The importance of timeliness also depends on the subject. Broad queries that focus on legal topics in general are likely to receive more responses, while highly specialized queries may receive fewer responses and therefore, you may have more time to respond.
In general, it’s best to get in the habit of responding as quickly as you can without sacrificing the quality and focus of your response.
As a reporter, when I receive responses that have poor grammar, lack of formatting or even one sentence summaries, I delete them on the spot. With HARO, part of being an expert is looking the part, and this means sending professional emails.
They can still be quick, direct and informal, but there’s no room for grammar errors, lack of information or other unprofessional mistakes. Include an actual greeting, a complete rundown of your idea, and your contact information.
Also, be sure to heed any requirements or directions the reporter puts in their query. If they ask for a brief bio, include a brief bio. If they want to conduct a Skype interview, make sure you can do that.
Part of being professional, and useful, is getting right to the point. Don’t start your response with your background or expertise or anything else other than the information that directly answers their query.
You can include that information later on in the email, but again, think from a reporter’s point-of-view. They don’t want to wade through your credentials – they want to see what insight you can offer.
Don’t Be Overly Promotional
In talking to other writers who’ve used HARO, it didn’t take long to name our biggest peeve: self-promotional responses. In most cases with legal queries, this isn’t an issue: the lawyer responds with information and also mentions their firm, website or service.
For some legal professionals, it’s easy to see HARO as a vehicle similar to a press release, particularly for those who have branched out and started a non-practice legal business, like software service or phone app.
But pitching your platform before your expertise won’t get the positive attention you want from a reporter. Instead, focus on your pitch, and only afterwards should you mention your company or website.
It’s also a good practice to avoid asking if the reporter will be including a link to your website. Links and increased organic traffic may be a benefit of using HARO, but those metrics shouldn’t be your main goal. Asking for links will send up a red flag that will make it a lot easier for the reporter to skip your response.
As long as you’re adding value to the story, you can still get the publicity you want, but it will be for your insight, not for what you’re trying to sell.
Above All, Demonstrate Expertise
Of all these elements, by far the most important is your ability to demonstrate expertise. If you send a response that’s late, full of errors and long-winded, you might still have a chance of being featured if you offer extremely valuable information.
The idea of expertise, then, can trump just about everything else – including your actual expertise. What I mean is this: when responding to queries, you don’t have to be the leading expert in your field. You simply have to offer a response that appears expert.
Of course, writers want to profile well-known figures in the field they’re discussing. But depending on the scope or needs of the article, they’ll take anything that’s useful, even if it’s from someone largely unknown in the public eye.
Often, it doesn’t matter if you’re a budding lawyer or a savvy, grizzled rainmaker – if you can project what appears to be an expert voice, you can get the attention of a reporter.
Other Useful HARO Tips
Keep track of the reporters you work with. Whether it’s saving them as contacts or connecting on LinkedIn, keeping in touch with reporters is a great way to become a consistent source for their stories. It may be against HARO’s rules to harvest email addresses, but it’s entirely okay to build out your media connections for future opportunities. This is particularly helpful if you’re putting out news, survey results or other assets that you’d like to get media attention.
Keep your responses conversational. A lot of writers take quotes directly from the emails themselves, rather than setting up separate interviews. Be prepared for this by offering conversational emails that would be easy to quote, in full or in part.
Let the reporter do the following up. Chances are good that most times, your response won’t be used. Instead of emailing the reporter to follow up, wait for him or her to get back to you. If your information is used, they’ll let you know, usually thanking you for your feedback and offering a link or date of publication.
Leverage your publicity. If you have success with HARO, use this media to your advantage. Feature it on your site or blog to demonstrate to potential clients that you have clout in the industry. Share the links on social media. If you’re featured in an online story, engage with commenters who have questions or comments.
Harnessing the Potential of HARO
Plenty of lawyers are currently using HARO to gain free publicity, but few have perfected the process to make it an efficient part of their marketing strategy. HARO is all about a mutually beneficial relationship between reporters and expert – keep this in mind when you send responses and you’ll have a much easier time of getting free publicity.
Featured image: “image of a young journalist, sitting at the table for a typewriter” from Shutterstock.