A Former Journalist’s Secrets for Getting More Press Coverage

Is your brand not landing the kind of coverage you’d like? It could be because you’re not looking at your PR pitches through a journalist’s eyes.

Sign up for HARO, then check out these tips from a content marketing writer who’s been on both sides of the table.

What I Learned Going From Journalist to Temporary PR Rep

HARO is a service that lets journalists send out requests—called “queries”—for expert sources for their articles and blog posts. Sources receive an email digest of queries three times per day and respond to the queries that are relevant to them. HARO is free for both journalists and sources.

When I used HARO as a journalist, I was subjected to just about every PR mistake you can think of—from irrelevant pitches to reps who would respond breathlessly to a query, only to ghost me when their client decided my market was too small-potatoes for them.

Then I landed a full-time contract as a content marketing manager for a small SaaS business. I started using HARO to help attract new readers to our content, giving me a glimpse into the pitching process from the PR side.

I learned from the mistakes I’d seen from PR people as a journalist—and used the storytelling skills honed from 20+ years as a magazine writer—to land my client in online publications like Capterra, LeadPages, CMSWire, and Tech Republic.

Overall I sent out 27 responses to HARO queries, and garnered nine press mentions for my client. (I also sent out three for Hero’s Journey Content, and two of those got us some good press.) Beyond getting my client’s name in front of thousands of readers, these online mentions made great backlinks for SEO. They were part of the game plan that ended up tripling my client’s organic traffic during the time I served as their content marketing manager.

HARO isn’t the only source-finding service for journalists, by the way—but I’ve found HARO to be the most effective.

Here are a former journalist’s secrets to getting the harried, overwhelmed writers who use HARO to notice your pitch.

Get More Press—Tip 1: Get ready.

Prepping yourself will help you respond to more queries, more quickly. Here’s what to do before you start pitching.

  1. Have a staff member set aside a few minutes to go through the HARO email digests when they come in three times daily.
  2. Get headshots of all the key people in your brand set up online so they’re there when you need them. Many writers request that sources send a link to a headshot, and specify that they don’t accept attachments. Don’t sink your chances by neglecting to send a photo when it’s requested in the query, or by sending an attachment when the writer says they don’t accept them. Make sure you have high-res headshots for print, in addition to smaller ones for online! (Here’s an article on how to check your image’s resolution.) I can’t tell you what a hassle it is for writers when their editors ask for high-res images and their sources don’t have any.
  3. Organize your pitches. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my responses to HARO queries, and each entry linked to a copy of my pitch in Google Drive. A lot of verbiage can be used over and over, such as your opening or closing, so having easy access to old responses is helpful. Speed is key when responding to HARO requests, and being organized will streamline the process on your end.
  4. Set up a Google Alert on the name of your business and the names of anyone in the company who may be quoted in the press. You’ll find out later in this article why this is necessary. (Not sure how to set up Google Alerts? Here’s a good tutorial.)

Now let’s dive into the details of how to create a pitch that gets results.

Get More Press—Tip 2: Don’t make it too easy.

A well-known content management system provider recommends creating a database of canned quotes from people in your organization. That way, when you see a query that fits your brand, you can “mix and match quotes and send them back to the journalist at high speed.”

Please don’t do that. This might get you press, but at the cost of your credibility. The practice of using emailed quotes is already considered journalistically questionable. Keep your business authoritative and credible by at least giving these writers fresh emailed quotes…not quotes that have been sitting on your hard drive for two years.

Get More Press—Tip 3: Follow directions.

When I was a journalist, it was incredible to see how many respondents ignored my (simple!) instructions on HARO. For example, I once sent out a query looking for gift shop owners and quickly received a response that said, “I know you wanted gift shops, but we do the same thing…let me tell you all about it.”

Guess what? I’m not stupid. I know other industries use the same technology I was writing about. I asked for gift shops because it happened that I was writing for a gift shop publication.

The instructions are there for a reason. If the writer is looking for female execs under 40, businesses in certain states, or vendors in particular industries, and you don’t fit the bill—use your time to respond to another query instead.

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Get More Press—Tip 4: Do the work.

Journalists who use HARO often ask sources to, say, “write 200 words in publishable form” or “send along three tips at no more than 100 words each.”

In essence, they want someone to do the work for them—and as a longtime journalist I knew how to do the work. So whenever I spotted a query that my client would be perfect for, I’d actually set up a quick phone interview with the right person at my client’s office and write up a response. Just as if I were hired to write the article myself!

You can do the same, using the next tip to boost your response rate even more.

Get More Press—Tip 5: Don’t be like the 100 other responses they’ve gotten.

When I read a query on HARO I can predict what 99% of the responses will say—and you probably can, too. Your job is to not be like that 99%.

For example, CEOBlogNation was looking for quotes from business owners on what they do in the morning to be more productive. What do you think most of the responses would be? Yep: Meditate, exercise, journal, and slap butter in your coffee.

When I interviewed my client, I said, “I don’t want to hear about your yoga practice or your journaling. What else have you got?” He gave me some compelling details about how he goes bouldering almost every morning, and how this helps him make better business decisions.

Boom: That quote ended up in the article, along with 17 other responses that were all pretty much what we predicted: Stretching, making a to-do list, and other yawn-worthy tips. Instead of fighting for one of those 17 spots (which I’m sure there was stiff competition for), we essentially created one of our own.

Get More Press—Tip 6: Let go.

You may want to follow up on your pitches. Don’t bother: HARO creates a unique address for each query that automatically shuts down after the writer’s deadline has passed.

Not that following up would do you any good anyway. In my experience, not only will writers not let you know if they can’t use your quotes—they often don’t let you know when they do use them. More often than not, I discovered one of my client’s quotes had been used only when I saw the quote pop up in Google Alerts. (Which is why you should set up alerts for your brand and all its key staff members.)

Instead of following up to ask about the status of your pitch, use that time to send more of them. And of course thank the writer, and share the article on social media, when you do spot your quote in a publication.

Think like a journalist, and you’ll land press that will garner the attention of your target market, bump up your website traffic, create valuable backlinks, and increase your brand’s authority.

Does your content team know these secrets to getting more press?

We created a PR training for a client that explained all this and more. Here’s what that client had to say: “Without question, Linda was the ideal professional to present to my class. She has a no-nonsense and creative approach to training other professionals and students.”

Check out our content team training services for info on how we can do the same for you.