Services like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) are excellent means for journalists and writers to connect with sources. I use the service myself both when writing stories and looking for sources, and when exploring media opportunities for clients. And, hopefully, I’ve learned a lot from receiving some very ineffective pitches. Here are some real examples of what NOT to do when responding to a reporter/writer request:
These are all actual responses that I’ve received:
“I have several comments I could make, what specific questions are you wanting answered?” (Why should I bother to respond to you when you haven’t given me any indication of your background/credentials or why your comments would be pertinent to my story – more pertinent than the dozens of others who have also responded, most with significantly more background info!)
“I would be happy to submit an article to you on that topic or to provide a sidebar.” (Uh, I’m writing this article, not looking for collaborators.)
In response to my request for sources to interview for stories about how to ensure sustainability for a one-person consultancy: “I would love to interview the Walt Disney Company to see what they did to insure (sic) continuity after he died. The (sic) continue to offer amazing services and products to children and families. As a management consultant, I would say that planning for this transition can help insure (sic) continuity.” (Huh?)
In response to the same request: “I have specific examples and thoughts to share on this subject matter. If you’re still looking for content and subject matter experts here, let me know.” (OK, what are your specific examples and thoughts? Again, yours is just one of many responses and you’ve given me no sense of why I should spend time following up on the off chance that you might have something valuable to offer.)
“I would be interested in what your situation is currently and why this topic is of interest at this time. Also we should discuss your current understanding of (topic)…I suspect this will take more than 15 minutes…” (HUH?)
“I know you’re looking for input from nurses, but…” and “I’m from California, but…” (I had asked for sources from nurses in the midwest – not only will these emails go into the trash file, but I’ll be a little skeptical of any future pitches I might receive from these sources as well.)
“I’ve got the perfect source for you!” (Well, that may be, but you haven’t taken the time to provide me with any specific details and I don’t have the time to circle back with you to see what is so perfect about your source.)
The most important thing to understand if you’re using a service like HARO to gain media exposure – and it does represent some great opportunities if used correctly! – is that the reporters/writers who are posting these opportunities receive dozens – DOZENS – of responses. You’re competing with a lot of others who are eager for exposure, many who have a very solid understanding of what it takes to stand out from the masses.
Basically, what it takes is:
- A pitch that is germane to the reporter’s story. If they ask for someone from New York, don’t respond if you’re from Wyoming. If they’re looking for a business owner, don’t respond if you wrote a book about owning businesses (unless you also own one).
- Specific detail about your credentials related to the reporter’s request. What background/experience do you have that makes you a potential expert source? Remember, you’re competing with other experts – what makes you stand out?
- A specific and somewhat detailed response to the reporter’s topic. You don’t want to submit an article, but providing specific examples, tips and details can help you support your credibility and, in some cases, reporters will pull from the email comments you made and atttribute them to you (a good reason to use a tool like Google Alerts to track places where you may have been mentioned).
- Courtesy and a certain amount of deference. Don’t be demanding with reporters – you’re not calling the shots here (unless you’re a top-notch celebrity or significant expert on a particular topic) – they are. There are many, many, many other experts out there clamoring to be sources. Give editors and reporters a reason to pick you.
- Helpfulness. Sometimes you may not be the right source, but you may know a great source and can make a connection for the reporter – they really appreciate that (if, again, the source is pertinent to their request/topic).
Basically, you’re making a sales pitch. So, you want to make sure you understand the needs of the editor/reporter and that you’re able to clearly convey why you can meet those needs. You do that through on-target, detailed pitches that clearly convey why you’re a great source.
And when the reporter gets back to you and says: “Yes! I’d love to interview you!,” there are some more important techniques to use to improve the odds that the coverage you receive is the coverage you were hoping for. More on that later…