One of the first things I recommend my clients do when they start working with me is sign up for alerts from Help a Reporter Out (HARO). HARO is an organization that sends out multiple emails a day to a list of nearly half a million people with requests from legit journalists for quotes and sources to include in articles. For businesses, it's an awesome way to get free publicity and to build back links to your website, which is important for SEO.
HOW HARO WORKS
HARO is free to join. You can sign up for multiple email lists depending on what category of pitches you'd like to get in your inbox (Health & Fitness, Business & Finance, etc.). Each email contains multiple journalist queries that you respond directly to with your pitch. (The email addresses are masked, much like what happens with Craigslist email addresses.)
To give you an idea of what's in the emails, here's a sample HARO query from a journalist that I stripped of identifying info:
Summary: Are You a Mattress Industry Expert?
I'm writing a 2-part series about mattresses. Part I will be about the sudden rise in online-only brands like Casper, Saatva, intelliBED, and so forth...
If you have some expert insight into this segment of the
mattress industry, our 2,000,000+ monthly readers would love to hear from you!
The idea is: you respond quickly and get quoted in the article. Bam! Free publicity and (hopefully!) a back link to your website.
GETTING FREE PR WITH HARO IS HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
It may seem easy, but there are some roadblocks to getting free PR with HARO.
First is that HARO is real-time and super competitive. You need to be one of the fastest people to respond (we're talking minutes) or you likely won't be selected for a story feature, especially if it's a popular topic for a big publication. (Pro tip: big publications in HARO are often listed as "anonymous" in the query.)
Second, it takes time to compose thoughtful pitches based on the queries. Even if you do find a query that's a perfect fit for your business, it takes at least 10 minutes to compose a thoughtful and relevant pitch that includes all the required information.
HARO has an extensive list of rules for pitching, among them: you're not allowed to include attachments; you're not allowed to farm the email addresses of journalists listed for later use; you're not allowed to pitch anything unrelated to the story; and you're not allowed to have someone pitch on your behalf without a direct response from you.
Even after all that, it's never a guarantee that a journalist will respond to your pitch, since they get TONS of responses from other people like you. Your brand or business has to be the perfect fit for the story or you'll probably never hear from the journalist at all.
BIG TIME SUCK. NO GUARANTEED RESULTS.
Really the BIGGEST barrier to using HARO to get free PR is that HARO emails are overwhelming, to put it lightly. If you're farming queries, you're probably signed up for 2 or 3 of their lists and getting 2 or 3 emails from each list every day. That's a TON of email. If you're a business owner, you probably have better things to do than sift through every HARO email looking for a chance at a query that you can respond to for press purposes. HARO offers a paid version that sifts queries for you, but that starts at $19/month. With no guarantee of placement — not to mention you're still doing ALL the work — that's cost prohibitive for lots of businesses.
The time involved in sifting through and responding to queries means most people sign up for HARO, then never check the emails. The communications pile up unopened, and eventually you unsubscribe. You probably even feel a little irritated hearing or seeing the word HARO.
The fact is if you DO bother to sort through and respond to queries with regularity (and professionalism) you'll probably eventually get featured somewhere. But how do you make it worth your time?
5 HACKS TO HELP YOU USE HARO TO GET FREE PR
1. Set up filters in Gmail to automatically float relevant HARO pitches to the top of your inbox.
You can use Gmail filters + relevant keywords to store relevant pitches in a folder or mark them as a priority in your inbox in Gmail. Want to see exactly how to set this up? Check out the FREE DOWNLOAD at the end of this post.
2. Set up an email "canned response" with a generic query response and important information about your business auto-filled.
You'll likely use the same language in a lot of your pitches, so autofill a response template that you pre-populate with important information using the Canned Response Google Lab feature. Then you simply have to pepper in the details that correspond to the individual query. This cuts your individual response time in half!
Don't know what to say? No problem! Brigitte Lyons at B has already put together an awesome pitch template for HARO, so just stick that sucker in a canned response and run with it!
3. Set up a press page on your website and link to it in the canned response.
This is a page on your website that contains all the information a journalist would need about you so they don't have to follow up with you personally to get it. It includes press photos, founder bios, your founding story, key products and services, a short summation of who you are, and contact information. Launch Grow Joy has an awesome blog post about how to set up a press page on your website with great examples.
Create one on your website and link to it somewhere in the canned response. This way you're providing useful information should the journalist require it, but you're not bombarding them with info in your email. (It also shows that you're prepared for press coverage!)
4. Don't follow up directly with journalists, but do make a note of who they are and find them on Twitter.
But DON'T TWEET AT THEM. Gah! If you haven't already, create a private list on Twitter called "Journalists" and add the journalists you pitch via HARO to that list. You can find the journalists by Googling their name and adding "Twitter" (e.g. "Guy Raz twitter") or using MuckRack.
Monitor your journalist list and engage with those people in real-life. Re-tweet their stuff! This is called relationship building. If they cover your industry, who knows, they may find you interesting and cover you in a later story.
5. Add that journalist's name to your HARO Gmail filters.
Now you know that a journalist who writes about your industry uses HARO. You might want to know about future queries they put in just in case they pertain again to your business. Use the same steps outlined above to add that particular journalist's name to your Gmail filters. Need help with that? Download the tutorial.