How to Write a HARO Pitch that WORKS (+ Examples of Successful Pitches)
At TCF, when we want to generate quick and easy media coverage for one of our clients, our first stop is Help a Reporter Out (or HARO, for short). While it’s certainly not the only way to score great backlinks and generate earned media coverage, it’s one of the easiest.
Simply put, it’s one of the most reliable resources for small businesses looking to earn media coverage.
Over the course of my 5-year tenure as an Account Executive with TCF, I’ve responded to well over 1,000 HARO pitches and landed hundreds of placements for our clients in major media outlets.
Just check out TCF’s client The Alternative Board (the world’s largest executive peer advisory franchise) in USA Today, Inc., and Entrepreneur – all coordinated through HARO. Or how about Blushing Brides in x and Allure? Yep, also HARO. Take a look at Astroglide in Self and Maxim. You guessed it — also HARO!
And that doesn’t count our clients we’ve gotten on TV — once again, just through HARO.
So, if you want a piece of the action, what should your next steps be?
Here's How to Get Started Using Help a Reporter Out
First things first, HARO is 100% FREE. And when we say “free” we don’t mean “free for one use,” or “free for the first 30 days.” No, we mean free-free. Like, forever.
Once you’ve registered for their service, you'll receive three emails per day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening that will look something like this:
Each link will lead to a more in-depth query from the reporter, outlining what kind of info they need, who they need it from, and what’s required to submit. For example, this is what the first Better Homes and Gardens pitch looks like when you click on it:
The queries are split up into the following categories: Biotech and Healthcare, Business and Finance, Education, Entertainment and Media, General, High Tech, Lifestyle and Fitness, Public Policy and Government, and Travel. Typically, all small business owners – from any industry – can (and should!) be responding to the Business and Finance queries, as well as whatever category best fits their niche.
Responding to this query in a relevant, informative way could land your insight in Better Homes and Gardens with an SEO-boosting link back to your website. Demonstrating expertise, raising brand profile and potentially sending leads your way.
Case Study: Many of the placements we get for SensaCalm actually result in referral traffic that converts. Beyond SEO, HARO has the potential to drastically increase sales.
The Where, When, How, and Why of HARO
The “where” is the easiest – simply reply to the email provided in the query. It will look something like “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Reporters typically sort their inboxes using this private email address, so it’s best not to email them directly (even if you happen to have their actual email address).
As for the “when,” the sooner the better. Depending on the query, hundreds of people could respond (but don’t get discouraged — we’ll show you how to write a pitch that cuts through the noise). The faster you respond, the more likely the reporter is to see and use your quote. Journalists on tight deadlines will often go with the first good response they receive, so there's a huge first-mover advantage to getting your pitch in early.
If possible, open up HARO emails as soon as you receive them, and get responding ASAP to get ahead of the competition.Want more of your @helpareporter pitches to land? Get in early – there's a huge first-mover advantage, as journos on tight deadlines often go with the 1st good pitch they receive. #HARO Click To Tweet
But wait — how many responses should you reply to? All of them? Some? Where do you draw the line?
Of course, the more HARO responses you send out, the more placements you’ll receive. At TCF, we've got about a 20-40% hit rate (meaning out of every 10 pitches, 2-4 will land).
From what we’ve heard and observed, the typical responder will see something more along the lines of a 10%-20% hit rate.
That means sending out a lot of responses is (generally) a good idea. Still, you should only respond to queries that you can accurately respond to.
When getting started, we recommend the 30-day go-hard-at-HARO approach. The goal would be to respond to all relevant queries within an hour of them being sent, but of course, that’s fairly ambitious for someone who’s also running an entire business. So maybe aim for a minimum of 10 a week, which by our estimates, could very likely turn into 4 media placements.
This process works for us and will work for anyone. We’ve trained countless clients on our approach, who have seen similar results. MaryEllen Reider, co-creator of The Yarlap System, won a Women's Health FemTech award using the techniques we trained her on.
As we mentioned previously, a big part of landing media coverage through HARO is timing. You’ll want to move fast, because there's a proven first-mover advantage to providing the first usable response.
So what does usable mean?
The ideal response provides 1-2 paragraphs in response to each of the questions posed by the reporter in the query, it addresses the topic thoroughly and offers a unique insight that will stand out against the hundreds of other submissions.
What Reporters Are Looking For in a HARO Response
A comprehensive answer that gets to the point quickly
- Like we mentioned before, just one to two paragraphs is ideal. They’re not looking for an entire blog post worth of content to sift through.
- If you feel like you need to attach your response as a Word document, you’ve written TOO MUCH.
- Remember, the text you provide will likely be chopped up and used in quotes throughout their article. It isn’t supposed to be the entire article.
- Your snippets should be “quotable.” They should be provided as ready-for-publication in a major media outlet (clean, concise, spell/grammar-checked, etc).
Something unique and interesting
- Reporters who put out HARO queries can expect hundreds of responses. If you want to get published, you have to stand out.
- For example, if the query asks for “your favorite business book,” don’t respond by saying The 4-Hour Workweek — that’s everyone’s favorite business book!
- Instead, pick a business book that’s lesser known, or even better, maybe choose a novel or memoir that inspires you as an entrepreneur. It’s a lot less likely someone else will think in that direction.
Actual industry expertise
- While it’s often easy to forget it, you are an expert in what you do. What may seem common sense to you can be great advice for someone just getting started in your industry.
- Use your years of experience and insider knowledge to answer questions in an honest way. If you’re just researching facts from Google, your responses likely won’t be as unique or useful.
- Anecdotes and first-hand experiences are always powerful tools when responding to HARO queries. If the query asks about difficult clients, it’s one thing to provide your general insight on how to handle them. It’s much more compelling to provide a real-life example of a time you had a difficult client and managed to mitigate the situation. Top that off with the advice you learned from the experience, and voila! You’ve got a placement-winning quote.
- For example, The Alternative Board CMO Jodie Shaw’s real-life example of an employee who used “My house is surrounded by the SWAT team” as an excuse to get out of work in BusinessNewsDaily via HARO:
What Reporters DON'T Want in a HARO Response
“Contact me for more info”
Reporters who send HARO queries are looking for usable quotes that are publication-ready. Enough submissions will include usable quotes, so it’s a waste of time to send out a pitch that merely offers up your client as a source.
Even if the HARO query specifies that the reporter is looking for a source to interview further, still provide a brief snippet that addresses the topic the reporter has listed in the query. Demonstrate your expertise up front, and you'll be more likely to be contacted for that interview.
"My client would love an interview”
The reason most reporters use HARO is because they don’t have time for an interview. If you want to pitch your client as a source, pitch directly to reporters, not through HARO’s service. Trust us: as blog writers, we also use HARO to find sources ourselves, and "schedule an interview" might as well say "put this right in the trash."How to Write a HARO Pitch that WORKS (+ Examples of Successful Pitches) Click To Tweet
Attachments and HTML
HARO strips emails of any attachments, so leave them out. If the query request a headshot, make sure you have one available via a link. Fancy HTML also gets stripped out of messages and should be avoided. Your message should stand out by itself — it shouldn't need fancy formatting.
Anything off topic
If you don’t have a great, targeted response for a HARO, skip it. There's no point in sending off-topic messages to reporters, as you'll just end up wasting your time (and theirs).
If you’re consistently sending off-topic HAROs, reporters will notice the pattern and stop opening your emails altogether. They can also flag your response as being off topic, which can lead to you getting banned from the service.
Check out our blog post 7 Reasons Reporters Aren’t Using Your HARO Responses [18 Pro PR Tips!] for more info on common HARO mistakes.
How to Make Your HARO Response Stand Out
Read through ALL queries
You never know what you may qualify for, so read each one. Every once in awhile, a business query will sneak into the “General” category, which means a lot more “business” responders will likely miss it, and you’ll get the upper hand.
Be first with a good response
We mentioned this before, because we want to stress exactly how important it is. The faster a reporter can get a useful quote, the faster they can be done with their article and move on to the next one, which means there’s a big incentive for them to go with the first good response they see.
Proof your queries
Reporters are looking for quotes they can copy and paste into their articles. Make your responses publication-ready. Also, typos make your responses look unprofessional, which will make the reporter question your validity as an expert.
Break up the text
A big chunk of text can be intimidating for a reporter to make sense of. Split up your submission with line breaks, bullet points, headers, etc. Each paragraph should express only ONE idea.
Think in terms of "snackable" quotes, and pepper a couple in your responses
Snackable quotes are our way of saying be pithy and quotable. Here’s an example of another quote from Jodie Shaw that we landed in Inc. through a HARO placement. The information is short, to-the-point, and highly quotable.
- Actually be an expert, with expert opinion/advice (the more actionable, the better!)
Reporters are often given topics they don’t know a lot about, but still have to create original content around. Being able to provide actionable step-by-step advice makes their job a lot easier.
TCF client Blushing Brides landed a feature in Bustle by providing a HARO reporter with suggestions, images and step-by-step instructions for holiday lip art.
- Case studies are always a positive, if relevant
A case study is a real life example you can use to illustrate your point on a topic and a very effective way to catch a reporter’s attention.
For example, TAB Member Lynn Gastineau, of Gastineau Log Homes, shared a situation in which an in-house accountant embezzled money from her company with a HARO reporter. The experience taught her to hire based on referrals from then on. This case study was then featured in Inc. magazine:
Offer to share the article when it’s live
This is a big one. Journalists are often measured based on the number of clicks and shares their articles get. If you can ensure you’ll actively promote the articles that feature your quotes, they’ll be more interested in working with you.
This also shows that you know how to play the game and are a savvy content marketer. We typically conclude our HARO pitches with something along the lines of:
If you do include this quote in your story, please let me know when it's published, so I can promote it across our social media channels.
Actually share the article when it's live
Share any articles that are published using your HARO responses across all networks, tagging the media outlet where it was published, the journalist, and anyone else quoted in the piece.
This will not only lead to retweets and engagements that will boost your brand awareness, but remind the reporter that you are someone beneficial to work with. For maximum effect, continually re-promote (and re-tag everyone involved) once per month as long as the article is evergreen and relevant.
This makes the journalist more likely to work with you in the future.
How to Get the Most Out of Your HARO Coverage
Once you've earned coverage through HARO, the two biggest things you can do are promote it on your website and thank the journalist once their coverage has gone live.
Having a press page can help with this. Better yet, put an "as seen on" logo on your homepage as social proof of your company’s authority. See how The Yarlap features its Femtech award on its homepage?
When it comes to thanking the journalist that accepted your pitch, we suggest following these five steps:
- Thank the journalist for using your quote via email.
- Follow the journalist who used your quote on LinkedIn and Twitter (but not on FB, that can be a little too personal).
- Add the journalist to your Twitter lists and engage with them. More on that here.
- When you follow up, say something to the effect of: "Feel free to reach out to me directly in the future if you need any quotes or expert opinion on X, Y or Z. I'm quick to turnaround responses and am happy to help." If you do this, you will build direct journalist contacts, and they will reach out to you directly in the future.
- Continually re-promote the article across your social channels, tagging the journalist and media outlet.
HARO is the Ultimate Small Business PR Tool (And We Can Help You Use It)
The benefits of HARO are undeniable.
Many of our clients see over a hundred original media placements in a year using this method. We've even landed a client a full segment on the Today show.
It’s a great way to get to meet journalists and develop relationships with them. Many reporters we’ve gotten in contact with through HARO now email us directly when they need a source. Not to mention, the backlinks are great for SEO and a good jumping off point for social media engagement.
Of course, maximizing the benefits of HARO requires excellent communication skills and quite a bit of time. In fact, managing HARO for one PR account can be a full-time job. (Ask us how we know!)
If you’re running a small business, it’s often times easier to have someone leading this strategy for you. TCF offers a HARO package where our team monitors and responds to these queries for you, on your behalf. TCF alone has been featured in Fast Company three times in the last year because of HARO, so we know a thing or two about what we’re doing.
Contact us for more info. We'd be happy to help you navigate HARO.