Are you pitching a journalist via HARO to get your story into a major publication? Here’s a quick list of what not to do in your pitch.
1. Don’t not respond to the request. I recently sent out a request via HARO for a piece I’m working on about CMOs and buyer journeys. In my request I asked for a quote from a CMO. Out of the 105 responses I received, at least 10% of them sent me something like this (this is a real response with the identifying information stripped out):
Pitch Contents: Sorry I’m not in my office but if you would like to speak to [name] the CEO of [company] who is expert in multi-channel marketing please let me know and I can arrange the call.
Do you know how much time it takes to get through 105 responses? What do you think I did with responses like the one above? That’s right, I deleted them. I already told them what I wanted, I didn’t have time to respond and ask them again.
What it a negative that this person was pitching a CEO instead of a CMO? Yes. But if she had sent me a great, relevant quote from her CEO, I probably would have included it anyway.
2. Don’t add fluff. As I try to meet deadlines and scan through 105 HARO responses as fast as I can, I don’t want to read about why the person you want me to quote in my article is a great person to quote. I just want to read the quote. Anything that gets in the way of me reading the quote hurts you. Here’s an example:
Saw your HARO request seeking experts on buyer personas and have the perfect source for you: [name], CMO and co-founder of [company name], a company that offers a customer intelligence platform that helps CMOs, VPs of marketing, etc. bring buyer personas to life. Her commentary–pasted below–is a bit lengthy, but should be quite helpful for your background writing the piece and hopefully for quoting as well.
Happy to answer any questions, and hope [name] insight is useful.
You might be thinking “C’mon Josh, it only takes you a minute to read that intro, and it’s helpful information!” False. It takes me 105 minutes to read 105 such intros, and I don’t have 105 minutes to read intros before I even get to reading the actual quotes.
I still ended up using the quote that was sent. Why? Because the PR rep separated her intro from the quotes, which made it easy to skip over her intro and read the quotes, and the quotes were quite good. Adding fluff won’t always ruin your pitch completely, but it sure doesn’t help.
3. Don’t self promote. If you get quoted in an article, that’s promotion enough. Your quote will always include your name, title, and your company name, and usually a journalist will link to your company website. If you have a good quote, that’s more important than putting the name of your company in the quote. Don’t do this:
At [company name] we work with multiple marketing teams across a variety of industries, from retail to utility services, to help them identify the most important and valuable journey‘s their customer are taking and thereby provide a more effortless experience.
When I see a quote with a company name in it, I think “Oh great, I’m going to have to edit this quote to get the company name out of it. I wonder how much time that will take me? Maybe I should just move on to the next quote and hope it’s clean and instantly usable.”
The exception: If the journalist asks you to include your company name in the quote, then include it. Always do what the journalist asks if you want to be used as a source.
These are just a few of the things I noticed while processing 105 responses from HARO for a recent piece. I’ve written about what I learned in more detail here.
Are you a journalist? What do you wish sources knew about using HARO? Are you a source or a PR rep? What questions do you have about crafting your pitch? Sound off in the comments below.Liked it? Share it!
Great article, Josh. I respond to a lot of HAROs and have pretty good success. You say to avoid fluff, but I believe HARO itself recommends a short paragraph with the credentials of the client (or myself, as the case may be). Is a title and xx years of experience enough background, or do you like to see a little more information speaking to the authority of the source, eg. “so and so has also taught marketing at Drexel University”? Or does fluff here just mean boilerplate info about the source’s company?
Thanks Gary, glad you liked it!
I’m fairly draconian in my definition of “fluff.” I mean any words that aren’t exactly what the journalist asked for. If HARO only produced 5 to 10 responses, a little fluff might be ok or even helpful. But when I’m on deadline and I get 100+ responses and I’m scanning through them as fast as I can, trying to find the good stuff, everything that isn’t a quote I can copy and paste (and basic source info like name, title, company, link) gets in my way. If there’s too much fluff and I find myself having a hard time figuring out where the response is, I just skip that email and move on to the next one. And by “hard time” I mean if it’s taking me more than five seconds to find what I’m looking for.
I have to laugh sometimes when I get responses from PR firms that have several sentences or even multiple paragraphs explaining to me why the source is such a good source and why I should include their quote. It’s hard for me to believe they don’t realize they’re hurting their client by making it hard for me to include the quote because I have to dig through the clutter.
With pitches, I recommend having a 2 second rule. If you can’t look at your email for 2 seconds and immediately identify the part the journalist is asking for, then you need to eliminate text or change the formatting. It’s similar to billboards. I constantly see billboards with too much text, text that is too small, too many elements, etc. Most people see billboards out of the corner of their eye while going by at 70 mph. No billboard should be approved unless it can be understood completely within 2-3 seconds by someone who is squinting their eyes and shaking their head back and forth.
If there is any fluff to be included in a PR pitch, it’s at the end, after the meat of what the journalist is after. That way the journalist can get hooked on the meat, and then the fluff can add some depth if it’s needed. Hardly anyone does this. 90% of respondents put fluff first, quote second.
Awesome post Josh, really useful for first time ‘haro pitchers’; I like to start off with any relevant ‘story’ bullet points and then add a full “fluff” story below to make it easier for journalists to quickly figure out if they want the story or not.
I do panic about them not linking back to the company sometimes; have you found that they always link back when you give the company name?
Hi Amy, I think the two pronged introduction > full story approach is good, as long as it’s obvious that this is what you’re doing. Sometimes I open an email and I just see a lot of text, and I may not be able to tell that there are two parts, I just see a bunch of text and think “Oh, this is a long one…I’ll read it later,” and then I never do. If you put “Short Version” in front of the pitch and “Long Version” in bold letters in front of the longer part, that would probably do it for me. Heck, if I saw that in a pitch I’d probably be more likely to read it just because it would show that the person doing the pitching understands my situation.
Re: linking back, what I’ve learned from being on the journalist side of things is that it’s not always up to the writer to determine what links get included and how things get linked. A lot of outlets have policies regarding links, and the writer might submit a story with a link and then the editor removes it. I think you’ll see more of this because linking has been abused and editors are now getting wise about it. Editors want links that add value to the story, but they don’t want their publications turning into link farms for SEOs.
Thanks for the question!
Thanks for the extra tip and super quick response! I’ll definitely make sure to note that in the future.