HARO, or Help A Reporter Out, is one of the best (free!) tools in a content marketer’s arsenal. In a nutshell, HARO is an email newsletter that gets sent three times daily. The newsletter consists of journalists and bloggers seeking sources for upcoming stories. The article topics range widely; you’ll find everything from home-buying to makeup to personal finance to agribusiness, and much, much more.

Using HARO as a journalist

When writing content, HARO is a useful tool for finding sources. I’ve relied on it heavily while writing the PickFu blog, especially when I needed a breadth of responses from business owners. I’ve been connected to some interesting sources including mobile app developers, e-commerce site owners, product photographers, and self-publishing authors all over the world.

This is how it works: You sign in to your HARO account and submit a query. These queries are then approved by the HARO team to be included in an upcoming mailing. A query consists of the following elements:

  • Click the image to see full-size HARO query

    Title: The title or topic of your article (this doesn’t need to be your final SEO’d and tested article title, but it is the headline that will appear in the HARO newsletter)

  • Query: A brief description of the story you are developing and the kinds of answers or sources you are looking for.
  • Requirements: Here, you can include any must-haves or preferences for your sources. For instance, you might specify that you’re only interested in people from a specific region like New York City, or that you’re looking for end clients only, not marketing or PR agency reps.
  • Suggested Post Date: This optional field enables you to request to mailed to HARO’s list on a specific date and at a specific mailing time (there are morning, afternoon, and evening editions of each mailing). These requests are subject to availability, and if the list editors cannot accommodate your request, it will be included in the mailing following your requested time slot.
  • Primary and Secondary Categories:  The HARO audience is subdivided into specific newsletter subscriptions, including Business and Finance, High Tech, Sports, and more. The “General” category is basically a grab-bag of topics. Here, you’ll choose two categories for your article query.
  • Deadline to receive pitches: This is the date and time when you will stop receiving pitches from sources.

You’ll receive an email confirmation when your HARO query has been approved. It will then be sent to HARO’s mailing list, and you’ll begin to receive pitches from sources who saw your query and responded to it.

My top tips for submitting HARO queries

Timing

If you have a long window of time to accept pitches, it seems logical that you would submit your query and provide sources that long window of time. However, HARO’s approval process actually doesn’t actually work that way.

Let’s say you can accept pitches from now until the Friday two weeks from now. If you submit your query today and include Friday two weeks from now as your submission due date, your query likely won’t get looked at by the HARO team until next week, and it will get emailed in HARO’s Wednesday or Thursday edition two weeks from now.

A better idea is to submit your query immediately, assign a submission date of two or three days from now, let pitches come in, and, if you need more or aren’t happy with the quality of the pitches, submit the query again.

Writing

Keep your query succinct but specific. Include direct questions that will elicit direct responses. For instance, “Marketing agencies: what’s the biggest marketing mistake you see clients make?” is a better prompt than, “Marketing agencies: what tips would you offer to clients?” because it offers a specific framing of what not to do rather than an open-ended question whose answers will run the gamut of the respondents’ collective imagination.

Requirements

Be specific about what kinds of sources you favor. For instance, I always include, “No phone interviews will be conducted. Please include your entire answer in your pitch.” The reason is that the first few times I submitted a HARO query, I received templated press releases or bios asking me to call rather than answers to my questions. Of course, some journalists want to conduct phone interviews, or maybe even video interviews. They should be specific about that, too. Help your sources give you the exact kind of information you’re looking for by spelling it out for them. You might even go so far as to include how you’d like the information formatted, e.g.,

Name:
Title:
Business Name:
URL for attribution:
Twitter handle:
1-3 sentence answer:

Images

Oftentimes, you might want an image to accompany a source’s answer, such as a headshot. However, HARO anonymizes your email address and sends replies to you through a centralized inbox on its site. You will also receive replies to your normal email inbox, but because HARO takes the step to anonymize and protect your email address, images that are included as email attachments will not render correctly.

If you would like images included in your HARO pitches, ask for them to be hosted online and for your source to include a link. This way, they might send you a link to a Twitter profile picture or a headshot on a website rather than a misrendered image attachment.

Follow-up

Once your article publishes, I recommend emailing your sources and letting them know. I include both sources I used and sources I did not use in this mailing. This way, everyone will click on the link to see if their quote was included. I encourage them to share the article, and in the case of PickFu, I even include a referral link for a discount. This way, if they’ve never heard of PickFu but may find it useful (after all, they are exactly the kind of people we’re targeting with the service), they get a small reward for their participation in my HARO query, regardless of whether I used their input on my article.

I have an email template that I use to get in touch with sources. I use the BCC field so that they only see their own email address in the To: field, not everyone else’s.

Feel free to use the template to follow up with your own sources:

Subject: Thanks for your HARO submission!

Dear (generic group name),

Thank you for your thoughtful HARO submissions regarding (topic). The post is now live: (article link)

While we weren’t able to use every submission, they were all carefully considered and appreciated. I hope whether you were included, you’ll find the article useful enough to share! Don’t worry – we’re constantly querying the (generic group name) community, so there will be plenty of opportunities.

(insert marketing copy here if appropriate)

(Signature)

Here’s how that email appears when it’s completed:

If you have more tips on how to use HARO as a journalist, please comment below! Stay tuned for the second installment of this series, Getting the Most Out of HARO: Using HARO as a Source.

Author: KIM KOHATSU

Kim Kohatsu is the founder of Charles Ave Marketing, where she brings the power and reach of Madison Ave to small businesses and startups.