As an author and writer I regularly use the service HARO (Help A Reporter Out) I’ve actually been using it for a few years now. If you are looking for sources, comments, ideas etc on a story you are writing it is, in my experience, the best service available – especially as it is free!
As with any environment like it, forums, blogs etc where people can contribute in an unmoderated manner you get a fair amount of unusable material. That comes with the territory. After all I’m asking people to share their stories with me in the hopes that I will use them as part of whatever I am writing and in return give them some kind of exposure. Free publicity isn’t free though. There is a cost to the person submitting, they have to take time to read the inquiry properly, decide if they have something worth sharing and then write a response. I get that. I appreciate it. I even do it myself.
However, it stuns me that many of the respondents have obviously become accustomed to the Social Media forms of communicating; a tweet, a blog comment, a Facebook status update. They believe that this form is how PR is handled. I recently posted a HARO request for the book I am working on. I make it very clear in my requests what I am looking for and the type of information I am requesting and that it is going to be used in a book. My expectation is that if you respond to that request you would actually like me to consider using your material in the book and of course give credit to you for providing it.
Some of the responses I get, and I have to say they are all from small businesses, are stunning in their mediocrity. Either they simply cut and paste their business details into the response and send nothing else – in effect spam or they reply in such an obtuse manner that I simply delete them. For example as a response to one of my latest requests, asking for information about how people selected their home office space, I received a response that said – “Oh I have stories, want to hear them?” along with their contact details. In another, the person stated that they would love to be used as a source in my story and said they were available for me to follow up with them!
Firstly, HARO is a PR tool, it is just about the easiest way to get your name into articles, blog posts, books or even on the news there is. If you are going to respond to a PR request why on earth would you try and be cryptic. Believe it or not the reason I am using HARO is because I am a busy writer and it provides me with a way to gather additional material quickly. So no I am not going to hunt you down and ask you to elaborate unless you give me a really good reason. If you are a small business owner or responsible for PR for one please do yourself a favor and find a PR course at your local college and take it. Learn how to write basic business English, a Press Release and how to respond to a press inquiry. Better yet, instead of hiring that “Social Media Guru” hire a local PR professional to show you how its done.
Fortunately among the dross there are replies that are useful, informative and actually make me want to follow up with the person submitting. PR is crucial to all businesses at some point. It isn’t the same thing as Social Media, so do yourself a favor and educate yourself.
How do you handle PR for your business?