Archive for August, 2008

Another word…or two…on HARO

Sally Saville Hodge

In my humble opinion, the new Help A Reporter Out (HARO) media matchmaking service comes out ahead of the venerable ProfNet by virtue of the KISS factor, if nothing else.

I did a down and dirty, point-by-point comparison a week or so ago from my perspective as a communications professional who’s been using ProfNet almost since its inception, and who has now added HARO to my bag of tricks.

But here’s the deal. The scuttlebutt I’m hearing from my friends on the other side of the fence is that journalists actually like it too. Who knew? Especially since I’ve lost track of the times I’ve listened to them complain about how so many PR folks abuse the ProfNet service.

By not being an abuser myself is how I met Deborah Cohen, a Chicago freelancer who, among other assignments, writes a weekly small business column for Reuters. I actually knew how to respond effectively to a ProfNet post in February, and she called me minutes later to tell me so, and get more information.

Today, she’s pretty much abandoned ProfNet for HARO. “I’m seeing a lot more legitimate sources on it, instead,” she tells me.


What she means by that is, primarily, sources who have not been filtered through a PR functionary. Deborah recalls posting on HARO for people who could share their experiences utilizing merchant cash advances or were experts on the topic. She got some very on-target responses, including one from a business owner who had been burned using this financial tool.

“On-target” may be the operative words. She would consider “illegitimate” the number of responses she got off many of her posts with ProfNet that were often not even remotely related to the query and/or broke the accepted rules, like including attachments (massive case studies, for example), waaaaaaay long pitches, and the obligatory follow-up call for the unwary who make the mistake of including their numbers. In short, so-called PR pros who are looking to get lucky even if their clients’ relevance to the query is marginal, at best.

What I find interesting is that apparently, a fair number of non-PR types subscribe to HARO, no doubt a function of the pricing structure (like free), which makes it all the more attractive to savvy bootstrappers, who may just get how to work the deal better than a lot of so-called professionals. That’s a pretty sad commentary.

C’mon people. Let’s all do better. HARO’s Peter Shankman plans a teleseminar to help at 1 p.m. (EST) September 9. Keep checking the HARO site for info as it develops.

August 27, 2008 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

Is HARO a new PR HERO?

Sally Saville Hodge

After more than a month away from blogging (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of fun?), the big issue for me was whether to whine about my limited bandwidth or write about a relatively new development in the PR realm that has me intrigued.

One aside, and I’ll then forgo the whining: How the heck does Richard Laermer of the Bad Pitch Blog manage to post with great regularity on at least three blogs, write a gazillion books AND run “an acclaimed” (you can tell he’s a PR guy) agency?

So a few weeks ago, a co-worker forwarded me a new media matchmaking feed called “Help A Reporter Out,” or HARO for short. This free service is a project of Peter Shankman, who bills himself as a “CEO, entrepreneur and adventurist.” (Another one who seems to multi-task a lot better than I.)

Anyone who’s serious about PR knows about Profnet, which until HARO launched was really the only game in town: Journalists can submit, for free, descriptions of articles they’re working on and the kinds of sources they need to help round out their stories. PR folks can respond, but we have to pay an annual membership fee to play. We get e-mail “feeds” a few times a day where queries are compiled by category, and can respond to those that are appropriate.

So now Profnet has a competitor, and not a moment too soon. On one hand, I think Shankman gives HARO a bit too much credit for better helping all us flaks out here to pitch the media more effectively, but it’s always good to have more options.

Having used Profnet for about the last 10 years and HARO for the last two weeks or so, I’ve been musing to myself about their similarities and points of difference. So how do they stack up?

Journalist posters: I see a fair number of redundant posts, not a bad thing, and both services seem to have about an equal number of queries per feed. My sense, however, is that HARO has more “reporters” and “editors” versus the “freelancers” that tend to dominate Profnet. That’s not a bad thing, either; just a difference.

Storyline/media variety: Here, too, both services are fairly equal, and, honestly, it’s almost an issue that’s out of their control. Reporters are often assigned (or choose to write about) topics deemed to appeal to either the lowest common denominator or to those where esoterica is the name of the game. I remember getting hits off Profnet years ago with reporters from the national business press who had fairly sophisticated queries. These days, you rarely see a query on either service from the Wall Street Journal or Fortune, say, unless it’s cloaked. To HARO’s credit, however, Shankman regularly urges his members to spread the word among their journalist contacts and notes the subject categories that could be beefed up.

Personality: Thumbs up to HARO on this front. The more corporate Profnet is “just the facts, ma’am,” while Shankman has enlivened each feed by leading off with a fun message from a sponsor (way to go to make this pay!) and asides. One told of the subscriber who sent him a birthday cake. That HARO T-shirts are on the way. That membership has surpassed 20,000. And, by the way, that Profnet’s not happy with the competition. All delivered in a breezy and engaging writing style.

Functionality: A few years ago, Profnet did a redesign so that each post was essentially an HTML message within the email body. The summary line at the top of each post linked to the detail. Neat on the bells and whistles front, but I, for one, hate it. It takes forever to load in my inbox and in these days of instant gratification, I don’t want to wait for 120 seconds for something I’m just going to trash after skimming in 30 seconds. HARO is just a numbered list of posts by category (business and finance; general; technology; yadda, yadda, yadda); you just scroll down to the right number to get the detail. Thumbs up to HARO for keeping the KISS factor in mind.

Profnet has a full Web site in addition to its daily feeds that presumably enriches the user experience. For some, features like the ability to post profiles of your “expert” client sources may be just fine and dandy. For us, we never saw enough of a return on time expended to put the profiles together to make the effort worthwhile.

It will be interesting to watch this new competition evolve in the months ahead. But for now, HARO’s my hero for a clean, easy-to-use and fun service. (Never mind that I always root for the underdog.) Check it out for yourself!

August 14, 2008 at 3:57 pm 1 comment

Don’t try this at home. Seriously.

Chris Scott

We get the idea that businesses are trying to trim their budgets in these economically challenging times (and are there any other?). And we’ve all heard that old saw that economic downturns are when businesses can least afford to reduce their spending for marketing and PR efforts. (You risk being forgotten when client dollars begin to flow again, etc.)

But a larger issue comes into play a lot more frequently (at least on an anecdotal level, so far): The “Do-it-Yourself” phenomenon. You probably know the drill – or at least have seen it. The head of Company X taps the human resources chief or the head of sales to develop a quick-response effort that can keep Company X’s name before prospective clients. (Or, in some cases, someone at the company’s cousin “knows someone” who “makes stuff” and can “do something” on the cheap. It’s a poor-man’s approach to PR and marketing and comes with consequences.)

Whether it’s a Web site, a promotional piece, an overpriced ad or an “e-mail blast” (so early 2000s!), what you’re likely to get is “something” that stands far apart from your previous efforts like a wallflower at the orgy, to borrow a phrase from Nora Ephron. It probably fails to support your brand, doesn’t look like anything that came before it, carries messaging that falls short of advancing your position and carries that patina of “this wasn’t done by a professional.” Inappropriate paper choices, bad design, clunky navigation, poor graphics all combine to threaten all that positive messaging Company X had built up in one fell swoop.

And if there are failings on the marketing side, let’s face it. On the PR side, most businesses don’t know how to get in touch with the media – much less speak with reporters. They don’t know how to provide that expert source quote or convince a relevant publication to write a feature story about how Company X is faring during tough times. And who has the time when there are so many other fires to put out on an operational level?

So resist the temptation. You might save a few dollars on the front end by not hiring an agency or laying off your in-house pros to help guide you through the process (if not manage nearly all of the actual PR and marketing work involved). But your reputation may end up paying the price if you try to tackle these specialized functions yourself or on the cheap. Even the most experienced do-it-yourselfer knows when it’s time to throw in the towel and call the electrician, plumber (or PR and marketing agency).

Why risk the company’s image and progress by taking on jobs that do not fall under your areas of expertise? You’d be amazed at the number of companies that wind up hurting their reputations with the exact people who could help them survive (or event thrive) as the economy shakeouts continue.

August 11, 2008 at 2:50 pm 1 comment

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