The Right Way to Respond to HARO Requests

Have you ever seen a small business owner or entrepreneur quoted in the press and wondered how they managed to get that sort of coverage? Chances are, the businesses you see mentioned in the media got their start through HARO.

HARO, which stands for Help a Reporter Out, is a website and daily digest that connects journalists with potential sources. Journalists submit queries, which are sent out by email three times every weekday. The people signed up to receive HARO emails – typically entrepreneurs and publicists – can then reply, or “pitch” themselves or their clients, as sources for stories.

This is obviously a useful service for journalists, but it’s also a great way for growing businesses with a limited marketing budget to get much-needed publicity.

“HARO was one of the first things I did to help get my small business some attention after my website launched,” says Kristi Porter, the solopreneur behind Signify Solutions. “I had about six successful mentions within less than three months.” Those mentions appear in the form of “as seen in” credits on the Signify Solutions website, which Porter says has increased her credibility, along with sending traffic to her site.

But just because you reply to a HARO query doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the press. Dozens of potential sources reply to every digest, which means it takes something special to stand out.

So how can you successfully pitch your business through HARO?

With digests going out three times a day, there are plenty of opportunities for you to pitch yourself as a source. But responding to any and all queries, regardless of whether you have something relevant to offer, is only going to waste your time and frustrate the journalist on the other end.

Many queries will ask for sources with specific professional or geographic qualifications, such as a mortgage broker who lives on the West Coast or tech startups owned by women. The first key to a successful HARO response is to make sure you match the query and have something relevant to say.

That may sound obvious, but according to Susan Johnston Taylor, you might be surprised how many responses skip that important step. Johnston Taylor, a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and The Atlantic, has been using HARO to find sources since it was a Facebook group without a website. These days, with so many businesses trying to generate media coverage through HARO, she says it’s not uncommon to receive multiple emails that start, “I know you’re looking for mortgage brokers, but…”

Those are the responses she ignores.

“If you’re not relevant to this query, wait for the next one,” she said. “Don’t try to shoehorn yourself in.”

Bob Herman, co-founder and president of IT Tropolis, says he is quoted in about five articles per year from HARO pitches but is very selective about replying to queries – even if they match his field.

“Pick your battles,” he advised. “Choose the stories where you have real expertise and … insightful information.”