Peter Shankman started Help A Reporter Out (HARO) in 2008 as a favor to some reporters who were having trouble finding sources for their stories. What began as a Facebook fan page, quickly exploded into a renowned service used by countless reporters, public relations professionals, businesses, among others.
As one of the original employees of HARO, I had the exciting opportunity to watch HARO grow into the service it is today. While a lot has changed, much has stayed the same. Over the years I have received various questions from sources, and one that keeps popping up is, “How can I improve my pitches to reporters?”
My former role of middle woman between sources and reporters gave me the chance to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of pitches. While there is no “correct” way of pitching a reporter, I do think there are four key tips you as the source can implement in order to better your pitches:
1. React Quickly
The HARO editions go out at the same time every day: 5:45 am, 12:45 pm, and 5:45 pm (EST). Keep in mind that 130,000+ other sources also receive the editions at these established times. The other sources are your competition, so to speak. What do you normally do when you face opposition and want to come out on top? You prepare yourself in order to give yourself the edge.
The same applies to responding to a HARO query. Be ready at the times you know the HARO editions are going to hit your inbox, so you can scan through the various opportunities swiftly. A reporter will most likely receive hundreds of pitches to the query you are responding to and you want your pitch to be at the top of their mailbox. You can only do that if you are prepared to react quickly.
2. PAY ATTENTION
Did you find a query you think fits you perfectly? Great! Now go back and reread the query at least three times to ensure you meet EVERYTHING the reporter is asking for. Only fit one of the requirements? Guess what? This query is not for you.
The reporters do not fill out the query requirements section for kicks and giggles. They have set criteria for their story for a reason.
I have had so many reporters forward me pitches from sources that begin with a line like, “I know I do not exactly fit what you are looking for, but…” or “My company and I do not have anything to do with your most recent query in HARO, but I noticed you usually write about _______ and we would like you to keep us in mind for future stories.”
You do not want to know how many times I’ve wanted to bang my head against my desk after reading pitches like the examples above. When you pitch off-topic, you are breaking our rules. You will be banned from our service if you pitch off-topic. It’s not worth it, trust me. So, read and reread a query prior to pitching a reporter.
3. Craft a Brief, Succinct Pitch
Do you like receiving rambling emails that seem to go on forever? No? Try being a reporter on deadline. The truth is reporters do not have time to read your book of a pitch. Do them (and yourselves) a favor and keep your pitch short and to the point.
In a writing perfect pitches video Peter made, he advised that a pitch should have three paragraphs:
First Paragraph: Introduce yourself.
Second Paragraph: Explain why you are perfect for this article.
Again, keep in mind hundreds of others sources could be pitching this same reporter. Why are you or your company unique? What will make you stand out from your competition? Treat this pitch like you are applying for a job. A reporter has the potential of receiving hundreds of pitches for one query, just like a recruiter has the potential of receiving hundreds of resumes for one job position. Grab the reporter’s attention by thinking outside of the box.
Third Paragraph: How can the reporter reach you?
As Peter said in the video, it is amazing how many sources forget to list their contact information. A reporter on deadline does not have time to hunt you down. Make sure you leave the best way (or even better, leave multiple ways) they can contact you in a timely manner.
4. Edit, Edit, Edit
Take the time to go over your pitch a few times for spelling and grammar prior to submitting said pitch to the reporter. A surefire way to have your pitch deleted is to send a submission littered with mistakes. Time is of the essence, but a shoddy pitch will net you nothing.
I hope the four tips I covered will help you, the sources, craft better pitches. Please do not get frustrated if reporters do not use your pitches the first, second, or even twentieth time you submit a pitch. Remember there are probably several (and by several, I mean hundreds) of other people attempting to pitch the same reporter. Be patient and follow the tips I have outlined above and you are sure to get quoted.
Good luck and happy HARO’ing!