PR pros sometimes tell me that Help a Reporter Out (HARO) doesn’t work. I would argue the opposite, based on extensive experience with it and the ongoing relationships I’ve established through the medium.
There was some sort of batch-related technical glitch that kept me from receiving about 10 pitches yesterday, but that’s nothing – and certainly not an indication of its lack of usefulness – especially when you consider I’ve been using the medium every week for the last year. You may or pay not know that ProfNet and HARO are merging, and every merger has technical glitches.
That’s not the reason people have been complaining over the last year. The reason they’re complaining is twofold: a lot of journalists are unresponsive and I imagine they’re not getting the results they want. Ergo, HARO doesn’t work. OTOH, who’s fault is that?
Don’t Confuse the Medium and the Message
HARO is a medium, nothing more. It’s just a website or “marketplace” that connects journalists with potential sources and their PR reps. Blaming HARO for the way journalists behave or the outcome of pitches is like blaming your toothbrush for failing to do a root canal.
On the other hand, I know how frustrating pitching can be. Been there, done that. I still do it. I understand how frustrating it is when people don’t respond to a pitch, or they’re just plain rude. It happens to all of us. However, that kind of stuff happens to some people more often than others – with or without HARO and here are a few reasons why:
You’re Playing the Numbers
If you send a pitch out to a sea of people, it’s likely someone will bite no matter how good or bad the pitch is. I see people using this tactic as evidenced by pitches that do not directly relate to a query I’ve posted. A good example are the fashion pitches I’m getting out of Europe. Guess what? Fashion isn’t my beat, not even close.
I usually tell people it’s not my beat, hoping they’ll get the message and stop pitching me. Although, the more fashion pitches I get, the more likely I am to ignore them. They’re irrelevant and poorly targeted. Of all the pitches I get, these are the ones I’ll most likely ignore.
You’re Advancing an Agenda
Well, of course you’re advancing an agenda. That’s why companies hire agencies and independent PR pros. OTOH, people often try to advance an agenda that isn’t in line with the specific direction of a story. And in most cases, it makes no sense to try to shoe-horn a bolted-on topic into the story.
The most common form this takes in my experiences is product-related pitches that are responding to an issues-oriented query. I get that a lot. “XYZ company would be happy to tell you why business leaders today need [our client’s product capabilities, including these specific features and functions].” OK, but I’m actually interested in the personality traits of a data scientist, for example.
Alternatively, I can get things that may seem logical to the person who is pitching, but are not relevant in fact. An example of this would be, “I see you’re writing a piece on data science. My client hosts grade school biology science camps.” The word, “science” is common to both topics. A pitch about grade school data science camps would have a better chance of succeeding.
I respond to these types of pitches and tell people why their pitches are irrelevant, but I’m apparently among the minority of journalists who do.
Having spent years managing clients and account groups at agencies, I know exactly why people are being trained to do these kinds of pitches – it’s just one tool in the toolbox. The theory is, if you pitch something related to a story, you may succeed. “May” is the operative word.
You Want the Story Angle Changed
This is a very unlikely outcome, especially when there’s an editorial hierarchy and the writer or editor has already sold an idea to her editor. A couple of people try this tactic on me every week and it doesn’t work.
The inherent flaws in this tactic are 1) it sends the message that the original story angle is flawed, weak, or or without merit; and 2) the client agenda is usually as transparent as freshly-polished glass.
People pitching themselves tend to do this more. Don’t write about THAT topic! Write about me!
It’s Time the Journalist Covered Your Client
After pitching a journalist on the same client time and again, one gets to the point where one feels it’s about time this journalist got with the program. After all, the journalists’s beat is X and your client fits squarely within the realm of X. In one of the areas I cover, an industry analyst recently told me there were 2,000 companies he could possibly include in a report but there was only room for 20 or so. Yikes.
I like to hear from fresh voices assuming the pitch is on-target.
One tenacious young lady who pitches me often had a hit rate of 0 (with me at least). She pitched me almost every week about the same client and same basic angle. It wasn’t a fit…until it was.
There were a sea of other pitches that also would have worked but I chose hers over some others because she had the fortitude to stick with it until she succeeded. I admire her tenacity. On the other hand, had her pitch been off-base – yet again – I would have passed on it.
Whether it’s “time” to cover a company, topic, product, or whatever is a matter of opinion. Your opinion won’t align with all the people all the time, but don’t give up. The most important thing is to learn from your experiences.
Got HARO Horror Stories?
Share ’em. I’d love to hear about ’em.