This post was updated on July 5, 2020.
I use both ProfNet & Help A Reporter Out (HARO) daily and I absolutely love them. If you’re unfamiliar, both are email updates that allow reporters to find sources by posing a question to the services’ subscribers who then answer the reporter directly. Most of the subscribers are public relations professionals.
ProfNet is a for-fee service while HARO is free.
I use the services to identify opportunities for clients as well as for expert positioning for myself. I’ve had quite a bit of success so I thought I’d share some tips on how to use these superb services.
12 Pro Tips For Getting The Most From HARO & ProfNet
1. Scan Headlines First
Since email updates for both services typically include about 20-40 reporter requests each, I scan the headlines at the top of each email to see if there’s anything I can use before diving in to the individual requests.
HARO provides some industry-specific versions, so that can save you some time if you need to focus on just one industry.
2. Evaluate The Source
If you’re not familiar with the media outlet making the request, check ’em out.
There are a lot of bloggers, authors, and newsletter writers who make requests through these services and sometimes, depending upon the audience of the outlet, it is not worth my time to respond even if the request is perfect in all other respects.
I generally ignore requests for book projects because there is not an immediate payoff but I will respond if there’s a long-term benefit.
Some bloggers are requesting sources because they’ve just launched their blog and have little content, so if you’re a blogger using these services, try and establish some credibility before you tap HARO and ProfNet.
Consider unfamiliar outlets on a case-by-case basis; You’ll need to judge for yourself whether or not it is worth your time.
Finally, I have come across and responded to several requests that turned out to be branded or native content efforts, so caveat emptor in that regard.
3. How Can I Help?
If you start with that attitude, rather than what’s in it for me, you’ll have the most success.
Review each individual request with a genuine desire to solve the reporter’s problem as expressed in the query. If you don’t have the solution, don’t waste your (or their) time.
4. What Do I Know?
I always keep in mind what insight or value I could offer for a given request. If I think I can help through my own expertise or thoughts, I’ll respond.
I’ll honest about what I don’t know as well as what I do know. If I think I can answer in a valuable way one aspect of the reporter’s request but not another aspect, I will be transparent about that.
5. Who Do I Know?
Who among my clients, first, then colleagues and friends, is best able to respond to a given request.
If it’s a client, great, I’ve found an opportunity for expert positioning or earned media for them. If it’s a colleague or friend, they’ll be grateful for the opportunity or at the very least flattered that I thought of them.
It’s a win-win-win. People like me because I thought of them and gave them something of value while I also helped the reporter.
6. Be First
I tend to review both updates as soon as they arrive in my inbox and respond as quickly as possible.
Reporters are far more likely to be keeping an eye out for responses immediately after submitting the response. There’s built-in anticipation; it’s natural human curiosity at work.
If you’re among the first to respond and you provide the reporter what they need, they’re likely to call, or copy and paste, right away because they’ve yet to receive any help.
The longer you wait, the more likely they are to be further along the way of completing their story and thus the less likely they’ll need your help.
You snooze, you lose.
7. Don’t Force It
If your contribution is tangential or worse, off topic, don’t bother. You’ll just piss off the reporter and they’ll likely just delete anything from you in the future.
8. Respond Thoughtfully
Don’t be obvious.
Think of unique angles or aspects of a topic they may not have considered. If the request is about a topic that you know has been covered fairly thoroughly in the past, I will include an angle or take on the topic that I haven’t seen addressed elsewwere.
Write in complete, copy and pasteable sentences.
9. Au Contraire!
Don’t be afraid to provide a contrary take.
The framing of most HARO and ProfNet requests almost guarantees responses that are in perfect alignment and agreement with the nature of the request.
If you disagree with the premise or you have a different take on the conventional wisdom about the topic, don’t be afraid to say so.
It’s very possible your take will be disregarded because it is contrary to the premise but on the other hand, it may stand out from the crowd because it is contrary.
Reporters will often look for that contrary take to help balance the rest of the article.
10. Help Them Help Themselves
I’ve responded to queries from reporters looking for resources by telling them how to find what they’re looking for, even though my contribution was beyond the parameters of their request.
For example: I told a reporters how to quickly find state legislators on Facebook even though the geographic restrictions on the request were outside of my state.
I was helpful and demonstrated some expertise and they will probably remember that somewhere down the road. If not, so what; it was worth the try.
11. Be Quoteable
This is, obviously, especially important for print journalists.
If you can turn a clever phrase, offer a memorable line, say something counter-intuitive or controversial or shocking or unexpected, do so!
12. Ask To Be Notified
I have Google Alerts set up to monitor for my name for this purpose but I nevertheless make it a habit of asking the reporter to let me know if they plan on using any of my material and, if so, when I can expect to see the story.
I frame it in terms of wanting to share it on my social channels. That in itself could mean the difference between the reporter including my take over someone else who may have an equally compelling quote but far less reach online.
This invites the reporter to respond to personally and creates an opportunity to solidify your relationship should he/she need you in the future.
How ’bout you? How do you use these services? What tips would you offer people? Share your wisdom in the comments.
UPDATE: Here’s an excellent piece by a Heather Whaling, a PR person who used HARO, explaining what it was like to receive pitches through the service.
And this is an email marketing tip for ProfNet: