Getting Publicity Through HARO: The Definitive Guide

By on Wednesday, December 4, 2019

One of the best (and free) tools for connecting with journalists who are seeking sources is HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Originally begun as an enewsletter by Peter Shankman, more than 800,00 subscribers get 3 HARO emails per day listing topics journalists are seeking sources for. Major national media outlets, including Fox News, Time, the New York Times, Mashable and many others have quoted sources found through HARO. I’ve subscribed to HARO for years, gotten stories for clients through responding to HARO queries, and also listed some of my writing projects with HARO when seeking sources (so I’ve been on the receiving end of HARO responses too).

Here’s my thoughts on how to maximize using HARO to get publicity and stand out from the 800,000 subscribers all hoping for just the right query:

Subscribe for free to HARO. Sign up for HARO is free and only takes a minute. I had a problem where suddenly I was only getting one of the three HARO messages per day. Even after contacting tech support, I had to switch to using a different email address for HARO queries.

Scan HARO queries three times a day. They distribute queries Monday through Friday at 5:35am, 12:35pm, and 5:35pm. The staff at HARO are also great about sending out their holiday schedule so you can plan accordingly. When the email arrives, look for journalist queries that REALLY relate to what you do , know and can talk about.

Select only the queries you best “fit” to respond to. This is where you need to be both thoughtful and strategic. It can be very easy, especially if you are a new subscriber, for lots of queries to look like matches for you. It is like a smorgasboard of media requests! It is tempting to respond to everything you find, but consider carefully which ones really are the best fit for your business, nonprofit organization or association.

Speed research the media outlet and journalist.  If you’ve found a possible query to respond to, do a quick google if you aren’t familiar with the media outlet or journalist that is making a request (fyi – those anonymous listings are often large media outlets). Consider if this is the type of media outlet you want to be in. Will potential or current customers, supporters, members or others, learn about you in this media outlet? Save yourself some time by responding to only those outlets and journalists that you feel are a good fit. I’ve noticed many content writers for blogs and large brand websites are now submitting HARO queries. If you don’t want to be quoted on a blog and really do only want to be in a traditional newspaper or media outlet, then filter out the requests that don’t work for you.

Do not contact the reporter via their personal email (or phone) when responding to a HARO request. Every journalist I know is completely inundated on their work email address with pitches and press releases, in addition to the real work they doing. Journalist names are often listed with HARO queries and thanks to your cyber sleuthing skills, it’s often not hard to locate their current email address or phone number. Resist the urge to respond directly to their personal email address  or phone number, and instead use the email address provided by HARO. If they wanted to hear from you on their regular email address, they wouldn’t have used HARO.

Be thorough in your response. HARO says, “Include answers to the journalist’s questions, any specified requirements and a bio with you or your client’s contact information. If the journalist is interested, they’ll reach out!” Journalists will often specify what they are seeking in their request. If they want a book title, a URL, and an author quote of 1-3 sentences then that’s what you should provide.

Directly respond to questions and don’t be vague. Saying “Would like to talk to you about this” or “I have a great source for you” with no details is completely unhelpful.  If a journalist asks for source information or responses to questions, then your response should be thorough. Don’t hold back your best quotes in hopes of getting a phone interview. Often, I’ve seen solid client responses to HARO queries printed verbatim. So this is a situation where you need to BRING IT and deliver up your best quotes. The reality is that journalists today are busy. If 3 people with great credentials fill out the query questions correctly and provide interesting quotes, the journalist probably won’t waste time calling people who didn’t. Many journalists receive dozens of responses – anyone who doesn’t follow directions is just deleted.

Value story over bio. I’ve done some reading about HARO and one mistake that I think people can make, is they overly emphasize the biography of the person they are pitching (or themselves) and they rely on this to carry a HARO response. But you have to remember – the response you are crafting is all about informing a story – of which you as the source – are only one part. Beef up your response where you can and follow journalist directions. It is not just about selling the person. It is about selling what the person will be in the story.

If you need to send background material, use a link. Attachments are not allowed on HARO, so don’t attach photos, logos, press kits or fact sheets. If you have a resource that is relevant that you think the journalist should know about because it relates directly to the story topic, then send it thru Dropbox, Google Drive or another service if it’s not online.

Respond promptly. The number one factor in achieving media placements through HARO is reaching out quickly to a reporter with a response that is on point,and makes it clear you fit the bill as their source for THIS story. This means you can’t have a cumbersome approval process, and everyone in the approval chain needs to be on board with generating an on target and pithy response. If you are representing a client, then you should have some pre-approved quotes on a variety of topics in a file that you can use, or you should have really great access to them and be able to call them on a dime for a fresh quote

This is no time for hopeful “Hail Mary” passes. I used HARO to look for sources for some magazine writing, and I was amazed at how many responses I received that were completely off-topic, even from people who clearly worked at large public relations firms who should have known better. Responding to queries you are not the right fit for can get you booted from the subscriber list and HARO has rules that it enforces. HARO uses a system to shield journalist email addresses from subscribers. Journalists receiving your responses can now rate your response for “usefulness” – get too many dings from journalists as an irrelevant spammer and HARO can boot you off their subscriber list. Their rules allow for only one warning.

Wait and watch for a response from the journalist. Unfortunately, following up is not something I recommend usually with HARO queries. If a journalist is interested in what you have to say, he or she will be in touch with you. You should not try to re-contact them via email or phone if you don’t hear from them. Often, journalists receive so many great and thoughtful responses, that they have a tough time choosing who to quote. Sometimes journalists will use what you sent in their story, and not let you know in advance. You may just be surprised one day to see your name or client in print!

Remember that HARO is often a low touch medium. Let the reporter set the tone for engagement, even if he or she reaches out in response to you. If he or she prefers email over a phone call, then respond via email.

Be ahead of the deadline. You should try your best to reply well before the deadline, as many journalists using HARO are time-crunched and often choose rapidly who to quote in their story.

Share HARO requests. HARO encourages people to share queries on social media and to forward them. If you’re not the right fit but know someone who might be, send some good karma out into the world and forward the request along to others.

Follow HARO on social media. Quick turnaround HARO queries are sent out on hashtag #URGHARO by @helpareporter on Twitter. They publish a HARO email account for responses. Because these are short and on tight deadlines – it’s even more important to respond quickly and clearly.

Evaluating a HARO Query: One Example
There’s a query on HARO today (12/4/2019) from a writer seeking a registered nurse or doctor to weigh in on best and worst store-bought smoothies. Just being the kind of smoothie maker your family adores won’t cut it for this one – you need to meet the requirements. The journalist asks for source credentials and throws out a bone, even saying you can mention your book if you’ve written one. She lists 6 questions about your opinions on store-bought smoothies (who knew it was so complicated? Clearly she’s trying to get the details!) and is looking for very specific responses to her questions. This is likely a situation where the responses will end up verbatim as quotes in her write-up, so what you send needs to be what you’d want to see published. You should be thorough in your response if you want to be successful. The author clearly has gotten some off-topic responses in the past, because she added to her request: “Don’t tell me you have someone great for this. SIMPLY SEND REPLIES if you’d like to be considered.”

Sample HARO Response

Email address: HARO provided email address

Subject Line: Responding to HARO Query [Topic]

Hi [First Name],

I’m [Name], and I’m [title/role] of  [name of company or organization].

I was pleased to see your query on [subject]. I can talk about this topic because [List your experience/credentials but be brief. This should be a sentence or two. not a soliloquy.].

Respond to the query here.
Note: This is where you need to shine. If they say they want someone with particular knowledge on a topic, this is where you should write a paragraph or two. If they have listed questions that they want responses to, list the questions and answer them here. If they have asked for tips on XYZ topic, then list 1-3 tips (figure 2 sentences per tip) and call it a day. You may end up quoted just doing this.

Thanks for your time and consideration. If you would like to contact me to discuss this further, please email or call me at


[Name] [Title, Business/Organization/Association Name] [Phone number] [Email address]

Ami Neiberger-Mille{Title, Business/Organization Namer is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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