Peter Shankman’s service Help a Reporter Out (HARO) has revolutionized the way publicists and PR practitioners find and respond to reporters’ queries. Based on the premise that “everyone’s an expert at something,” the thrice-daily free email service delivers dozens of queries to a subscriber’s inbox every day. All you have to do is sign up, check your email, and scroll.
But such services have also given any and everyone with an email address access to media contacts. As an advocate of free services, I believe the democratization of media relations is great. But as a former reporter, I know that in the wrong hands, such power can be potentially hazardous.
Dealing with the media requires a certain brand of etiquette, and that may escape an artist or small business doing its own PR. And that’s completely understandable. That’s why there are professionals that do this sort of thing.
I recently caught up with Jennifer Thomas, a Florida-based travel columnist and editor of an online travel magazine. She regularly posts queries on HARO. Should you ever find yourself responding to a posted query, here are 6 tips from Jennifer on how to respond:
1.PITCH ON TOPIC. I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I receive pitches that have zero to do with my query.
2. ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS POSED IN THE QUERY. Please do not say “I have an expert for you, click here,” or “I wrote about this, visit my blog at X”. I want to hear what you have to say about the query and how you think you or your expert fits in. Do not make me work for it. There are too many people responding to posted queries, so those who actually take time to provide relevant information will likely receive follow up questions or be included in the article.
3.MEET THE DEADLINE. If a deadline is included in the query, please, please, please, respond in a timely fashion. Just today, I am still receiving pitches responding to a specific query from 6 days ago. The article has already been written. If by chance you or your client fit perfectly into a story, then start off by saying “I know your posted deadline has passed, but I have a great source for you. I’ve included specific content below in case you might still be working on the article. If not, I appreciate you considering this client for any future article opportunities.”
4. PROVIDE THE WEB SITE FOR MORE INFORMATION. You’d be surprised how many pitches I receive, particularly for consumer products, that do not include the Web site. I then have to ask for the Web site, which could be a huge delay if the client contact is not immediately available, or I do a search on my own for the appropriate Web site and it may or may not be the right one the client/source wants me to include.
5. USE CONTACT INFO WISELY. I don’t mind being added to press lists for additional press releases or unsolicited pitches personally. Often this received proactive content might spark a story idea for me. So, bring it on. As a general rule though, only pitch me 2x a month per client unless you have a brand like Oprah.
6. KEEP FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS TO A MINIMUM. If I’m working with you/your client on a story and it is evident that I am including your information, please keep follow up to a minimum. I personally do alert my sources when an article has posted, but that’s not needed…it’s just polite on my behalf. That’s what Google alerts and the pr firm’s searching is for. I ignore the continuous “do you know when it’ll be posted” or “what is your circulation” type questions. Reduce the back and forth please…I am on deadline!!