How to get free publicity via HARO

Written by: Karl Sakas

Want to get free publicity for your agency and your clients? Subscribe to the HARO list… and use the following tips to help you get more publicity!

It’s part of how I’ve gotten covered in 130+ articles, podcast episodes, and other earned media over the past six years.

In this in-depth tutorial, I’ll share how you can get PR coverage using HARO specifically, and how you can use HARO to help your agency’s clients—including how HARO can help client retention, even if a client doesn’t get quoted.

Disclaimer: I’m not associated with HARO; these tips are from my own experience. And my HARO advice focuses on helping agencies who don’t already specialize in public relations; if you do PR, you likely know all of this already!

First… what is HARO?

HARO is a service connecting reporters and sources (HARO is an acronym for “Help a Reporter Out“). I recommend starting with the free Basic version—it’s what I use—but the paid plans offer various upgrades.

PR expert Peter Shankman created HARO; the service is now owned by martech firm Cision.

Pitching is highly competitive. In April 2019, HARO reported having 800,000+ sources and 55,000+ journalists and bloggers.

Coverage opportunities range from huge (e.g., an interview on NBC) to small (e.g., being one of 30 experts quoted in a content mill’s roundup listicle).

“Reporter” covers a wide range—from staff writers at the New York Times and producers at major news networks, to staff and freelancers at regional newspapers and niche trade publications, to branded content writers and marketing people at other agencies.

Likewise, topics stretch from broad (e.g., “what are the latest trends in artificial intelligence?”) to narrow (e.g., we want to hear from Realtors in the Dallas area who specialize in working with recently-divorced parents”).

How does HARO work?

Once you sign up as a source, you’ll get three emails a day with source requests (Monday through Friday). I follow the “Business & Finance” category; that typically includes 10-30 requests per email.

If a request is a match for you, email your pitch to the address listed… and if the reporter is interested, they might quote you! (Or they’ll request a followup interview to speak further.)

A few days… or a few weeks… or a few months later, the piece goes live! (Or may not… sometimes it never happens.)

Why should my agency care about HARO?

Media coverage can produce backlinks (helpful for SEO), increase your credibility with current and prospective clients (helpful for marketing and sales), and otherwise raise your agency’s profile (helpful with recruiting, too).

HARO can help you get press coverage without requiring a full-time publicist or PR agency. (As I mentioned earlier—if your agency specializes in PR, this article isn’t for you!)

Ideally, you’d build relationships with reporters in your industry; sending HARO pitches can sometimes feel like emailing into the void. But monitoring HARO helps you find opportunities you might not see otherwise.

What’s your #1 HARO tip, Karl?

Think like a journalist! Their job is to produce content that serves their audience, that meets their deadlines, and that advances their career.

This means three things as you and your agency use HARO:

  • Recognize they aren’t creating the piece to make you look good. They need expert quotes, but their job isn’t to quote you specifically.
  • Make their life easier. Get to the point, demonstrate credibility, follow the directions (mostly), and don’t waste their time (and your reputation) by pitching irrelevant opportunities.
  • Don’t get attached to any one opportunity. Competition is tight; I recommend sending the HARO pitch… and then forgetting about it.

Let’s dig deeper!

What should I include in my HARO pitch?

Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. They’re writing to meet their and their audience’s needs, not your needs or your client’s needs.

With that in mind, the ideal source:

  • Brings credibility (you’re an expert in the topic)
  • Communicates clearly (because your quote might be 1-2 sentences in a 500 or 2,000 word article)
  • Focuses on the audience (which means no [obvious] self-promotion)

If the reporter says they need your comments in your initial pitch email, follow the directions. Don’t try to wheedle a call if it’s not on offer; remember, the reporter is in charge.

What are the odds of getting picked via HARO?

I see a 10-15% success rate—that is, I send a pitch and ultimately get quoted ~10-15% of the time. But your mileage may vary (YMMV):

  • If you’re in a broad category (e.g., SEO or real estate), you might do worse than 10%. Remember, HARO reports having 800,000 sources.
  • If you (or your clients) are an expert in a specialized area (e.g., SEO for residential real estate agents), you might do better than 15%… although you’ll likely be sending fewer pitches.

Quality and speed matter, too—sending a high-quality pitch within an hour is probably better than sending a generic pitch five minutes after getting the email… and better than sending a high-quality pitch right before the deadline for a request that went out two days ago.

Remember to make life easier for the busy journalist. If I get quoted, it’s usually from exactly what I emailed. One time (when I’d pitched one of my clients), the journalist used my “what she does” language verbatim.

How do I know which HARO leads to pitch?

I weigh publication quality, my fit as an expert on the topic, and how much work it’ll take to do a good pitch.

Marquee publications like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal are unlikely to convert—but if they do, they’re huge. Those are relatively rare within HARO.

If it’s about agencies and matches my expertise, I typically want to pitch. Even if it’s not agency-related, I’ll pitch when the topic matches my functional expertise—e.g., handling difficult clients, how to create a sales process, and how to become a better leader or manager.

When the journalist wants full quotes via email, that requires more time than the more-rare “I’ll schedule an interview if I’m interested” HARO lead—because the email is my one chance to convey my message.

Are there certain HARO requests to avoid?

I generally avoid pitching “Anonymous” requests (where the reporter and/or publication aren’t listed). You don’t know the quality of the publication when it’s anonymous, so it’s hard to judge whether it’s a good ROI on your time. (And for agencies seeking quotes… it might be one of your direct competitors!)

I also avoid pitching HARO requests where the angle sounds negative—things like, “What did you learn from your worst financial mistake?” or “Tell us about your worst boss!” To be sure, most HARO articles aren’t “gotcha” situations—this is primarily business journalism, not investigative reporting. But you’ve probably seen articles that make the featured people seem incompetent, entitled, and/or clueless.

Consider brand reputation, too. I’ve stopped pitching a particular publication after learning their political leanings are opposite mine—I don’t want it to look like an endorsement. I won’t pitch sites that clearly look like content mills. And I recently opted not to comment on a huge agency-client blowup, because the agency’s client in question is a third-rail organization.

How can HARO help my agency’s client retention?

When you forward a client a potential opportunity, it shows you’re thinking about them. (Again, I’m assuming you’re not a PR-specific agency; in that case, forwarding and pitching opps is part of your baseline job.)

Showing this “Warmth” helps your client retention—even if they don’t get picked… and even if they never pitch the opportunity in the first place!

It fits into offering “strategically free” bonuses. But I recommend you explain HARO before you send a client their first lead, especially if the lead may be urgent—you don’t want them to panic because the deadline is in a few hours and they don’t know what to do.

What’s the catch about “free” publicity?

There’s a high Opportunity Cost—”free publicity” might be free when it comes to spending cash, but it’s the opposite of free when it comes to your time. And your cold pitch via HARO may be one of dozens or even hundreds.

In contrast, an industry-specialist PR firm will have personal connections to reporters. Those connections don’t guarantee coverage—but they improve your chances at cutting through the clutter.

You’ll have to find the right balance. Speaking of time…

How much time should I spend on HARO?

The time commitment depends on whether I’m reading the HARO emails… or sending a HARO pitch.

  • Most days, I spend less than 15 minutes on HARO. This includes reading the three HARO emails and, when relevant, forwarding an opportunity to a client. If I’m in meetings, I may read all three later in the day.
  • When I’m pitching a source request—typically a few times a month—I drop everything and spend 15-60 minutes on the pitch. Remember, time is of the essence (but get a proofreading review, if possible).

Be aware that HARO can become at least a little addictive—you’ll want to read each email immediately, in case there’s something for you. Major FOMO—because what if the HARO email you skipped had a huge opportunity? But you’ll likely become pickier over time, in that you won’t pitch every opportunity you see.

As an agency leader, consider delegating HARO monitoring to a more junior team member. You might still want to write the pitch—but you don’t necessarily need to be the person who first saw the opportunity. Remember, focus on your “$1,000/hour” activities.

Any other tips for using HARO?

Yup! Here are some other points to keep in mind.

  • Narrow your HARO subscription categories. It’s tempting to sign up for every category. But that means you’re receiving a TON of leads via the 15 emails a week. I’ve found my ideal leads are in the “Business & Finance” category, so I follow just one category.
  • Move quickly. When I see one that’s a match for me, I drop everything, research the reporter (for any shared connections or at least so I can tweet them a heads up that I’ve submitted), draft an outline of intriguing points, come up with an intriguing subject line, and share a list of when I’m available for an interview (if it’s by phone).
  • Frontload repetitive tasks. Since you’re busy, you can have your assistant submit the pitch and handle scheduling any interviews. You can also prepare a 1-2 sentence blurb about yourself, so you have that ready.
  • Register ahead of time. HARO requires the “from” address to match one that’s in their system. If you send a pitch from a different address, you’ll get prompted to create an account. But deadlines are tight; plan ahead. (This includes briefing your clients on how to prepare, if you’re going to send them HARO leads. For instance, encourage them to read this article.)
  • Be realistic. My highest-profile coverage has come via my PR agency (Metis Communications), not my own HARO pitches. And when a HARO opp isn’t quick-turn, Metis suggests they pitch on my behalf—because they often already know the reporter.
  • Be flexible if they want an interview. If a reporter wants to speak with you (or a client), drop everything to make it happen.
  • Don’t act entitled. Reporters have zero obligation to quote you specifically, so don’t act like they do.
  • Tweet the reporter… once. I like to send a tweet to the reporter to mention I’ve submitted a pitch. They often reply with a “thanks!”—or at least “favorite” the tweet. But don’t overdo it.

Ultimately, HARO gives you an avenue to insert yourself into news that you might not be a part of otherwise. When you see random people quoted in the New York Times article, some of them may have come via HARO… or the reporter’s friends on Facebook.

Next steps to get free publicity via HARO

At less than 15 minutes a day to review the three HARO emails, it’s a high potential ROI. I rarely skip reading one, because I might miss an important opportunity for myself (or more often, my clients or their clients).

You might initially sign up for all HARO categories (to see which best match your agency and your clients) but I find doing just “Business & Finance” is spot-on for me.

Based on your category testing, you might encourage your Account Managers to sign up, too, to directly monitor opps that apply to their specific clients.

Question: Have you managed to get free publicity via HARO? What was your key to making it happen?

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