Is HARO a new PR HERO?

August 14, 2008 at 3:57 pm 1 comment

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!

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Entry filed under: Agency Management, Expertise Marketing, Media Relations, New/Social Media, Public Relations.

Don’t try this at home. Seriously. Another word…or two…on HARO

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