Help a Reporter Out: From a writer’s perspective, it’s the best of times and the worst of times for the exact same reason—you meet tons of people. Personally speaking, I’ve met some amazing entrepreneurs, business leaders, PR professionals, and other contacts through the platform. At the same time, I receive dozens of irrelevant pitches per day, and quite candidly, these messages drive me nuts because I have no choice but to ignore them (and that’s a really rude thing to do).
Over the last 3 years, I’ve been pitched more than 10,500 times. I know this number because I had one of my team members count every single response to every single query that I’ve ever submitted. Out of this batch, there have been a few hundred pitches that have really stood out: they were relevant, on-point, unobtrusive, and truly helpful in speaking to my goals.
In reading roughly 60% of my HARO pitches (I read as many as I can), I’ve recognized the following trend: almost every single person who pitches me is genuinely thoughtful and obviously working hard to make their clients and teams happy. I very rarely see bad apples, and I have immense respect for people seeking coverage: almost everyone has a great story to share. But when I receive more than 100 responses to a single query, how do I pick the 3 or so people who I choose as interviewees? In answering this question and providing some transparency into my process, my hope is that I can empower you to deliver your best pitch.
After reading thousands of HARO pitches, here are my best tips:
1 – Focus on the story, not the interviewee’s bio
I receive countless HARO pitches with source bios that are 2-4 paragraphs long. I know your interviewee is amazing, but when I’m scanning hundreds of pitches, it’s very easy for me to get lost in the details. Ideally, I’d love to see a one-sentence bio, max—one that allows me to quickly scan the person’s vantage point and experience.
What I love, however, is when PR pros send me a sneak preview into the candidate’s interview: a few sentences, or paragraphs, that clearly demonstrate what the person has to say. This information allows me to decide whether an in-depth interview is worth it: thoughtful, to-the-point comments yield thoughtful, to-the-point interviews.
I care about what the interviewee has to say and am less concerned with how many patents the person holds or how many 30 Under 30 awards that he or she has won.
2 – Stick to HARO’s system
Like the rest of the world, I’m buried under avalanches of email: I receive hundreds of messages per day and send upwards of 50-80. Almost daily, someone sends me a really amazing HARO pitch over email, and I end up forgetting about it. Why? HARO is my tool for keeping query responses organized. I log in when I’m ready to filter through responses, which I usually do in batches. If I receive a direct email—no matter how amazing—I’ll likely ignore it (see amazing pitch example that I accidentally ignored below).
Having heard from thousands of PR professionals, I can empathize with why they’re hunting down my direct contact information: they think that I’m more likely to see and remember something that hits my main inbox. Receiving so many emails, however, I need a system for organizing PR requests— and it’s not my brain. It’s HARO’s interface.
As an additional sanity check, I also maintain a separate inbox where all of my HARO communication goes. I make sure to read as many of these messages as possible: it’s easier for me to organize than filtering through my main inbox.
Rest assured that your messages are being seen, and I’m less likely to see them when I filter through the details in a systematic way. I’m actually more likely to ignore messages that end up in my main email inbox.
3 – Keep your journalist relationships strong
I’m always thrilled when I see a familiar face and PR rep on HARO. There are a dozen or so amazing publicists with whom I’m in touch, and I can honestly say that I wish this list was longer. I’ve met many in person and some have even, out of the blue, referred me to clients.
I love getting to know PR pros because I know that I can ping them when I’m in a pinch. I also love when PR pros get to know me because they consistently share stories from relevant clients. It’s a beautiful, symbiotic thing.
The takeaway here? In your HARO pitches, mention whether you’ve worked with a journalist on a story before. This simple action will jog your recipient’s memory and kickstart a conversation. Show that you’re paying attention: we’re listening, and good journalists appreciate the thoughtfulness.
4 – Answer the question in a direct way
I receive many one-liners asking whether I’d like to talk with a particular interviewee. The short answer: I don’t know, because these pitches fail to provide enough detail for me to make a decision. I end up ignoring these threads as a result.
In all of my HARO queries, I include a specific question or set of questions that I’d like answered. The best responses I get are ones that answer these prompts directly. That way, I can make a quick, in-the-moment decision about whether to follow up. All of the information that I need is right in front of me, and I can send a quick, focused, and constructive email reply.
The end result is a great process on both sides, from start to finish. From the get go, no details are left to the imagination.
5 – Keep the process low-touch
Many PR pros who pitch me will assume that I want to hop on a 30-minute call. Running a business, I’m on 5-9 hours of calls oneasy day, and I do not want to schedule more calls. In some situations there are extenuating circumstances: the topic is confusing, or my interviewee needs the guidance of a live q&a—that’s totally fine.
What’s less okay is when a PR pro schedules me for a 6AM call, when his or her contact would prefer to send an email anyway.
I try to keep the process low-touch and clear by specifying the type of interview that I’d like in my HARO query. Many other writers do the same, so please try to pay attention. I always love when PR pros ask if I’d prefer email or phone-based responses. As often as possible I’ll opt for email, and the end result will be outstanding.
6 – Don’t ask when a piece will be published
I don’t say this out of annoyance: I say this out of wanting to save you time. I, like many other freelance writers and content producers, write for dozens of publications. Because I’m independent, I have limited insight into these companies’ editorial schedules. It’s just easier that way—editors are great at what they do and don’t need multitudes of writers as additional cooks in their kitchens. Plus, writers have enough on their minds and can’t humanly track the many moving parts of publishing a piece of content.
It’s worth saying that out of all my tips in this blog post, this one is probably the most controversial. After all, PR reps, clients, and interviewees are thoughtful enough to offer up their time. Not to mention, some writers are editors who are managing their own editorial calendars. The best answer I have is to feel it out. Don’t take a nonresponse as a sign of disrespect, and be content with “I don’t know” as an answer.
Be patient, and you’ll see the story run. And if you’re a PR rep, be transparent about this process with your client, too. Present a realistic view of this process, and your stakeholders will understand.
HARO is a beast to navigate, and my perspective is one of many. I’d love to hear others’ tips for making the most of out this platform: what are your best tips for reaching and engaging with journalists? Help a marketer out by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.