James Parsons is the founder and CEO of Content Powered, a content creation company. He’s been a content marketer for over 10 years and writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and many other publications on blogging and website strategy.
18 Tips and Examples to Help You Write a HARO Pitch
One of the services I’ve been using recently for marketing, link building, and general awareness, is Help A Reporter Out. HARO, as it’s usually called, is a Cision company (alongside other outreach and engagement platforms like PRWeb and PRNewswire) aimed at linking up reporters, bloggers, and journalists with authoritative sources.
The general idea is simple. A journalist signs up because they have a question they want to ask industry sources. Rather than do the legwork of tracking down those sources and interviewing them personally, they use this platform, where sources come to them. They write up a scenario and question, called the “Media Opportunity” on HARO.
You, as the relevant authority for the topic, can find the media opportunity via their search, via saved searches, via keyword notifications, and via the daily email digests HARO sends out. When you find one that looks like it is something you can answer, you can draft a pitch.
Your pitch includes a few fields. First is the Bio. You can create and save a bio in HARO, which contains basic information about who you are, similar to an author bio for a blog post. With paid plans, you can create several bios, which fill out different kinds of information for different kinds of media opportunities. For example, I might create a bio that focuses on my content marketing experience, a different bio that focuses on my blog management and technical SEO experience, and a third bio that focuses on my motorsports hobby.
Other fields include a subject line and a response, basically just as the subject and body of an email. You draft up your pitch in response to the question the reporter is asking. Once you submit it, the reporter can see it and choose what to do with it.
Reporters can choose to ignore or reject your pitch. They can also choose to mark your pitch as accepted and use it. Also, sometimes they can use your pitch but ignore the HARO system. It’s a bit frustrating sometimes, but that’s just the way of things.
To get the highest level of success possible out of HARO, you want to make sure you’re creating the best possible pitches for every relevant media opportunity. That’s why I’ve put together this list of tips; to help you succeed where I’ve succeeded.
1. Get Your Pitch In Early
HARO media opportunities are time-sensitive. When they’re added to the site, HARO moderators look it over, make sure it’s a valuable and legitimate opportunity, and release it. It’s given to premium subscribers first, and then it’s opened up to the general pool of free users. You have to get in quickly with your pitch if you want it to be read and accepted.
The fact is, most of the journalists reading pitches are going to browse incoming messages until they get one that satisfies their needs, and that’ll be that. They might get dozens or hundreds more pitches they’ll ignore because they have what they need. Getting in early is crucial.
2. Focus on Relevant Media Opportunities
HARO is a system where quality and relevance are significantly more important than quantity. If you make a template and shoot out 500 pitches in a day, you’re likely to be ignored 500 times. Spend the time to read a media opportunity thoroughly before you reply to it with your pitch.
My personal advice is to do a little extra research. You can see the site, author, and some other information about the journalist, so research their website and see how you might fit in there. Tailor your pitch not just to their topic, but to them, like you were writing a guest post.
3. Upgrade to an Expert Bio
One of the paid features of HARO is the ability to create an expert bio with all your information that you can automatically send alongside your pitch. You only get one for the cheaper plan, but higher price plans give you more than one.
If you’re paying at least $50 per month, you get several bios you can customize to suit different aspects of your expertise. After all, you’re an expert in more than one subject, right? One of them can even focus on your hobbies if you have space to spare.
4. Lead with Your Experience
Your bio will give some information to the journalist on the other end, but you want to start off strong. Before you start talking about what kind of information you have to answer their question, write a paragraph about who you are and why you’re an authority in this topic. Do you run a large blog about it? Do you have a degree in it? Have you performed deep studies on the subject?
Some people also recommend adding a headshot, contact information, and other encouragement to reach out. I prefer adding this kind of information to the end, rather than the beginning, but I haven’t tried both ways often enough to know for sure if one works better than the other.
Note that I say “a paragraph” here. Keep it minimal. The journalist has a deadline and if they have to read three paragraphs of fluff, they’re going to skip you entirely.
5. Make Certain to Respond to the Question
This might sound like it shouldn’t even need to be said, but I’ve found that some people are a little bad at asking questions, and many people are bad at reading them. This isn’t just for HARO; I’ve seen the same behavior on Quora, on Facebook, and in emails when I send out more personal contacts to individuals. People skim, they don’t read. It’s easy to misinterpret a question from a HARO media opportunity.
For example, here’s an actual media opportunity:
How would you answer this? The temptation is to focus on their first question, but the second one, about video content being repackaged, is a tricky part. Some people might respond about how to repackage content as a video. Others might ignore part two and just answer part one. Answering both appropriately would be key to this opportunity.
6. Avoid Templates
A lot of sites that talk about using HARO (like this one) offer pitch templates that you can use. You can try them if you want, but I highly recommend avoiding them. Why?
Media opportunities on HARO are very narrow and specific. A template doesn’t save you any time beyond, maybe, not having to copy and paste your contact information. Something like AutoHotKey can do that just as easily. By the time you customize a template for the opportunity you’re seeing, you’ve basically had to rewrite the whole thing.
Also, templates become popular. The journalist reading all these pitches is likely to come across multiple people using the same template, especially if it’s from one of the first Google results about HARO tips and trick. Just like getting form submissions in your email, you’re liable to ignore a template-based pitch out of hand. I know I would unless there was some specific reason to pay attention, like recognizing the name of the person submitting the pitch.
7. Be Who They Want
Many media opportunities on HARO have a requirements section. The journalist wants people in a specific role or with specific experience. The example opportunity I linked above has it. If you don’t match that set of requirements, your pitch is going to be ignored. You have two options here.
The first and generally better option is to ignore the opportunity and work on a pitch that is more likely to be accepted. Focusing on the battles you can win is generally the way to proceed.
The other option is to contort yourself to meet their needs. For example, you might be an entrepreneur with a small company, no more than five employees and contractors at most. You might not technically have the role of Marketing Manager, but who else does? You can assign yourself the role, assuming it’s something you do.
I can’t guarantee this will get you much more attention than otherwise, but you can give it a try for Hail Mary pitches on good blogs and high DR sites.
8. Find a Unique Pitch
If you’ve ever looked at Quora, you’ve probably seen questions where there’s one good answer, and then five or six other people posting slightly worse, less well-written, shorter versions of the same answer. You might think that the best answer was written later to out-do them, but you might be surprised to find that a lot of people just copy answers poorly. It still gets their name there, after all.
HARO has a similar problem: a lot of other people are competing for the attention of the journalist, and they’ll be submitting pitches based on the first answer they can think of. If you think of the same answer, you’re just going to be ignored. Try to come up with something a little off-beat or unique in some way to stand out from the rest.
9. Don’t Get Salesy
I know a few marketers who have a habit of turning everything into a sales pitch. No matter what the content is they’re writing, there’s always some way they work in a pitch for their products. Don’t do that.
HARO is about information and citations. Unless the reporter is specifically asking for people who have X category of product to respond – at which point talking about your product proves you have it – you shouldn’t mention much of anything beyond your company name and what you do. You’re not here to sell the journalist, you’re here to showcase your experience and get a backlink.
10. Work with Others
If you run or are part of a mid-sized or larger organization, HARO can still be of great benefit to your website, and you have even more resources available to you. For all of those requests where there are specific requirements for a person’s role, check to see if you can get the person who serves that role in your company on board. Getting the direct line to the appropriate person goes a long way.
I’ve personally secured mentions through HARO just by working with the author back-and-forth through email conversations.
11. Check the Site Frequently
Since response time is crucial for success on HARO, what you really need to do is be checking constantly for new opportunities. If you pay for an account you can get keyword alerts, though you only get 1 or 3 keywords for the lower tiers. You can also set up alerts on your phone, and set alerts with your email to notify you when a HARO email arrives. Beyond that, you just have to keep checking the site. I like to save a few searches as well, so I don’t have to go through the trouble every time.
12. Promote Your Citations
When a reporter uses your citation in their piece, run it through your promotion engine. Post it on social media, link to it in a relevant blog post if you can, you know the drill.
The goal here is two-fold. First, by promoting it, you further build awareness of the citation. Your audience and theirs can start to blend, and maybe you’ll pick up some new followers.
Second, you reinforce the idea that you’d like there to be more of a relationship than just this single exchange of information. When you make yourself visible and available without harassing the journalist, you can make yourself valued.
13. Use HARO’s System, but Follow Up
HARO gives you the option of using the in-system messaging for your pitches, or to send them via email directly to the journalist. Both options work. Some people prefer HARO’s system because it’s easy for an email to get lost. Others don’t really care to check HARO and live out of their email.
I find that the best of both worlds is to use HARO’s system for the initial pitch, but follow up a few hours or a day later via email. That way you can connect with the journalist in both places.
14. Remember Who You’ve Worked With
I’ve been building and maintaining a spreadsheet of the people I’ve contacted, the pitches I’ve made, and the citations I’ve received. As it grows, I’m sure to see repeat journalists.
Advice from those journalists that I’ve seen indicates that they love working with people they recognize, and that doesn’t surprise me. If I get the opportunity, I plan to remind anyone I’ve worked with before that we’ve worked together, and that alone may be enough to get my pitch accepted. It’s all about those relationships!
15. Consider Paying for Advanced or Premium
HARO’s premium versions (pricing and information found here) are pretty reasonable. In general, I recommend paying for at least the Advanced version, which is $50 per month.
The biggest perk you get for that tier is the head start. Remember how I mentioned that HARO moderators approve media opportunities, and then they’re released to the early pool before appearing in the general pool? Paying for Advanced or Premium grants access to these early alerts. The extra lead time can allow you to get a pitch ready to go before anyone else has even seen the opportunity, which can be invaluable.
16. Monitor Results
I mentioned way up above that a lot of people who provide media opportunities fail to actually mark them as closed before they expire. I’ve had a couple of pitches accepted and used, but I was never notified of it. Luckily, I’ve been recording all of the pitches I send to these sites and occasionally check those sites to see if my information was used. In nearly all cases, my pitch was published to their blog without any notice or email to let me know that it’s been published.
You track your progress manually with a spreadsheet (which is what I do), or you can use Google Alerts. Set up Google Alerts for your name, or for a key unique phrase you use in your bio that you don’t use elsewhere, to be notified when your pitch is used. That way, you can monitor the link and traffic you get from that source, as well as maintain contact with that journalist in the future.
I also like to use a backlink checker like Ahrefs or Monitor Backlinks. I was amazed at how many people used my pitch and linked to my website without letting me know that they’ve used my pitch.
17. Follow Up Later
The real power of HARO is not just in the links and mentions you get, it’s in the relationships you build. It’s a way to get hooked up with a lot of industry people, writers and bloggers for high-level sites, and more.
Shortly after your pitch is accepted and published, send a thank you email to the journalist. Be sure to mention that you appreciate being cited and that you’re always available if they have other questions in your industry that you can answer.
I would also recommend following up with the journalist some time down the road as well. Months later, you can refresh yourself in their minds by reaching out. It helps if you can come up with some reciprocal reason to contact them, like asking for their experience with something, to subtly remind them of why they know you. I’m still relatively new to using HARO, though, so I haven’t hit that point yet.
18. Keep Going
Tenacity is the number one quality of a successful HARO user. A lot of pitches are ignored or are not accepted, and it can get frustrating. I’ve had a success rate of about one in fifteen, to give you an idea. I don’t think I have the most optimized possible pitches, but I know I’m not the bottom of the barrel. There’s just a lot of competition. Much like blogging, much like SEO, and much like all aspects of marketing, don’t give up. You’ll get there eventually.