If you work for a small company that's craving publicity or you're a reporter looking for story sources, touch base with Peter Shankman. He's the founder of HelpAReporter.com, an online service connecting journalists with sources. At 24,000 members and growing, Help a Reporter Out (HARO) has become a viable resource for frustrated journalists and PR pros.
Three times a day, Shankman e-mails subscribers a list of 15 to 30 queries, ranging from a Washington Post reporter looking for finance workers downsizing their lifestyle to a Canadian daily freelancer hunting for people who "blast music at work."
The variety of queries is remarkable, as are the journalists and publishers searching for sources. Often, journalists won't list their publication, especially if they're freelance. HARO also takes submissions from magazines or papers looking for products to sample for upcoming gift guides.
There are two sides to HARO: you can send a query to the subscriber list, filling in fields online that specify what source you need. Your pitch is sent the same day or the next day, and sometimes you receive dozens of responses. When I used HARO to find success stories for this article, I only received five replies. But other journalists have gotten more impressive results.
"When I posted a query, I received 150 to 200 replies," says Lis Garrett, who edits an online parenting magazine called Root & Sprout in Ithaca. "I have no doubt I would not find the quality or quantity of submissions if it weren't for the hundreds of responses I receive each time I post on HARO."
The second option at HARO is to subscribe to the three daily e-mails containing a few dozen queries, mainly from U.S.-based publications. Sometimes a query is specific ("Looking for Hispanic business travellers"); sometimes it's more open ("Anyone out there can comment on the art of Jeff Koons?"). Journalists list their publication, location and deadline.
Both HARO features are free, which may explain why Shankman has seen 24,000 members join since he began the service in March 2008. Close to 5,000 reporters have used the site so far.
"Everyone's an expert on something," Shankman says in an interview. "HARO gives the expert and the journalist a way to connect in an easy way."
Shankman, a New York-based PR specialist, enjoys playing the role of media matchmaker. "I like putting people together. It's fun for me." He adds that his online efforts pay off, too. He embeds a small advertisement in each e-mail, which helps pay the bills.
Shankman realizes PR firms may want to take advantage of HARO in order to get their clients free press. He says on his website that he hopes all respondents avoid violating any etiquette protocol.
He wants PR companies to ask themselves before replying to queries "Is this response really going to help the journalist, or is this just a BS way for me to get my client in front of the reporter? If you have to think for more than three seconds, chances are you shouldn't send the response."
Finally, an online service comes along to give journos a much-needed saviour when all other sources dry up. Public relations professionals can better find relevant reporters instead of cold-calling everyone on their contacts list.
HARO's simple set-up is accomplishing what a new media company should long ago have invented: a filter between reporter and PR firm, a link between journalist and source.