Behind the Scenes Part II: What Makes HARO So Successful in Getting You Media Coverage

All companies must establish rules; otherwise business in today’s world would be a free-for-all. The same goes for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), a free service designed to bring together reporters and news sources.

Throughout my three years as HARO editor, I heard several complaints about our rules, many of which were the product of misunderstanding. Through this post, I hope to explain HARO’s rules to help avoid confusion in the future, as well as educate users on why we have certain rules in place.

I assure you, we are not trying to be the “Big Bad Wolf” and hopefully our dedication to our users and their experiences with our service will shine forth in this post and help you gain more traction in garnering media coverage.

1. In order to ask for information, your website must have an Alexa.com ranking of one million or less. To determine the Alexa ranking of your website, please visit http://www.alexa.com/topsites and enter your website in the search box. Your website will be judged based on the overall Alexa traffic rank, not the traffic rank in the U.S.

When I first started at HARO, our Alexa ranking criteria was set at 5 million. A year later, we made the criteria tighter and required sites to have a ranking under 2 million. All of these changes and our current requirement  (your website must have a ranking of 1 million or less) are the end results of user requests. We must continually update our requirement to stay relevant with our users.

Our sources are busy and if they are going to take the time to pitch themselves or a client for a story, they want to know the publication is worth the effort.

2. Your publication or website must be fully launched prior to submitting a query. Your site must also meet our Alexa.com criteria before a query may be submitted on behalf of a newly launched website.

If we are going to hold websites to a certain Alexa ranking criteria, new websites must also meet this criterion. It would not be fair to give newly launched websites free passes and then hold established websites to our first rule. Fair is fair.

3. No reporter may ask for content unless it is 300 words or less.

Peter Shankman created HARO to aid journalists in finding sources for their stories, not to do their jobs for them. If a journalist needs additional information, they can interview the source directly.

4. When submitting a query, you must include the name of your publication and/or website in the media outlet field. If you do not want the name of your media/website published, please include a note in the query, addressed to the HARO editors, indicating you would like this removed prior to the scheduled query deadline.

There are only two editors editing 900 plus queries a week. They are not mind readers, nor do they have time to be. Help them help you and list a note with your media outlet in the body of your query, so they can ensure your publication meets all of our criteria. If you do not list your outlet at some point, your query will not run. Plain and simple.

Also, keep in mind that if you list yourself and your outlet as anonymous, you are likely to receive fewer responses. Sources like to know who they are pitching to.

5. Queries for product samples will only be accepted from reporters representing TV stations and verified print media. Product sample requests from websites or radio station reporters are not permitted. This is in order to protect our users from fraud and other scams. Any products received by a reporter must be returned to the sender at the reporters’ expense.

My second year at HARO, we experienced a scam involving product requests. The person submitted queries for various mommy blogs that did meet our Alexa ranking criteria. Our sources submitted their products and the person behind the scam kept them, which cost our users to be out on products and money.

We do everything in our power to protect both our users and reporters and this act was reprehensible. Something had to be done, so we decided limiting product requests to print and television outlets (the reporter must have proof) was the best course of action to prevent our sources from getting scammed once more.

I realize some of you may think it is not fair to punish reputable websites for one person’s indiscretion, but file this under the “one bad apple ruins it for the bunch” tab.

6. Reporters may not request compensation for travel or hotel stays.

Again, our service was created to help reporters find sources for their stories. Nothing more, nothing less.

7. When submitting a giftbag query, please note that reporters may only request items for a single, in-person event (no online events or giveaways). You cannot ask for event sponsorship, nor charge a fee for the giftbag.

We (well, Peter) created the giftbag edition to help public relations and event planning professionals garner products for giftbags handed out at events. This is not an opportunity for websites to ask for giveaways for their readers.

Also, a giftbag request may never charge a source a fee. We are not charging you to submit a request, so why should you be able to charge someone willing to give you free products for your event?

8. Student reporters are not permitted to use HelpAReporter.com

We are not anti-students at HARO, despite what some people have deduced from this rule. Instead, we have had several issues where students have submitted queries under the guise of trying to garner sources for major publications. In actuality, they were trying to gain sources for a class paper or for their student paper.

As I mentioned in my explanation of our first rule, our sources are busy and if they are going to take time out of their days to respond to a query, they expect the outlet to be legitimate.

We recognize some students freelance for major publications, which is fine, but they must have their editor (with an email address linked to the publication) email us verifying that the student does indeed work for them.

For additional information on this rule, please read Peter’s explanation.

9. Reporters may not ask respondents to take a survey, comment on a blog, or to submit information via a link. All information must be received via the submission process at https://app.helpareporter.com/Reporters/Queries.

This rule is in place to ensure that reporters do not attempt to drum up comments and/or traffic to their blogs or websites. We also have this rule in place to make sure the content rule (no content requests over 300 words) is honored.

10. Reporters may not ask respondents for prerecorded video. Reporters may only ask for sources to appear in a video the reporter themselves will film.

I have seen many queries asking sources to send videos of past media appearances. Many videos of such appearances are copyrighted and we respect copyright laws. Therefore, we do not allow any video requests to ensure no laws are broken. If a reporter wants a video of the source, the reporter themselves must be the ones to do the filming of the source.

11. Please do not submit queries requesting book reviews or to review copies.

Much like the product request rule, we have enacted this rule because we had people misuse the system and shortchange our sources. We attempted to give warnings, but found book reviews were a constant headache, so we decided to do away with them. Again, one (or several in this case) bad apple ruined the bunch.

12. No subscription-based outlet may submit a query. We consider an outlet to be subscription based if only paid users can view or read the outlet’s content. Outlets that include free content, but also offer a subscription service, are accepted.

We do not charge journalists to submit queries, so why should we allow outlets who will charge users to read content utilize our free service?

13. Requests for guest authors or guest bloggers are not permitted.

Third time I’ve said this: We are a service to aid reporters in finding sources for their stories, not do their jobs for them.

14.  A reporter may not ask a source for any type of monetary compensation for the source to appear in the reporter’s media outlet. If this occurs, the reporter will be immediately banned from our service.

The same idea applies for this rule, as #12. We do not charge reporters to use our service, so why should they charge our sources?

I hope my explanations have cleared up any confusion or busted any myths about our rules. If you still have questions, please post below and I will gladly answer them for you.

New to HARO? Sign up now for free publicity: http://www.helpareporter.com/sources.

As always, happy HARO’ing!

Photo courtesy: _redheat (Creative Commons)