For PR teams, the most common way to secure media coverage involves announcements, data and proactive pitches. Yet there are always times when proactive pitching doesn’t work, or when announcements and data are relatively light. It’s times like these when PR folks must figure out how to supplement their planned pitching to continue to drive media interest at a good pace. And there are a number of tools – both free and subscription-based – that help generate a steady stream of opportunities. Examples of these include HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and Qwoted, which are both free, and ProfNet, which requires a subscription for those wishing to respond.
For those unfamiliar, these platforms allow reporters to post requests for commentary from sources they can use for a specific story. PR folks can sign up for e-newsletters that are usually delivered multiple times a day with more information about the requests, including contact info, story description and deadline. Taking a few minutes to browse these lists is a good practice for identifying story ideas and interview opportunities.
While they’re a great tool for PR people, it’s easy for your submission to be overlooked. With that in mind, there are ways to increase the likelihood that the reporter will see (and hopefully use) your client’s comments.
Pick your spots
The number of inquiries served up by these platforms, especially when you subscribe to several, can be overwhelming, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to all of them. Nor should you try. When reviewing them, you want to be selective and pick the ones that are the best fit. Since each receives so many responses (anywhere from 10 to nearly 100, depending on the topic or publication), you might think that submitting for as many as possible will increase your chances of inclusion. In reality, it’s likely a waste of time. A better strategy for sifting through the dozens of requests in each newsletter is to search for topics and keywords that you know are relevant to the stories you want to tell.
Be first to the punch
Queries on these sites are all given deadlines that presumably coincide with the reporter’s editorial deadline for each piece. If you think one of the brands you represent is right for a given opportunity, submit as soon as possible. Waiting means the reporter may have everything they need for the story before they get to your submission. Being first to the punch is one of the easiest ways to improve the chances of being included in the piece.
Offer a unique perspective
If your spokesperson has an original or contrarian point of view or an unexpected take in response to the query, by all means submit it. With reporters receiving so many replies, sharing something you think could be different will help it stand out in the crowd. Also, feel free to bring suggestions or guide your spokesperson’s responses in a direction that works for the story. Most PR people spend lots of time reading and researching stories, so chances are they have ideas about the commentary that can improve a story. Use this knowledge to make your submissions as strong and insightful as possible.
Keep responses tight
Reporters aren’t looking for you to write the story for them, but rather for help enhancing it. They’re on deadline, so they can’t spend time reading pages of insights from a single company. So when submitting, it’s best practice to keep your responses short, punchy and no longer than a paragraph or two. When you bring a journalist query to an expert spokesperson they might look at it as a time to show off everything they know about the topic. Help them trim the fat and figure out what’s most important to include in their response to make it less overwhelming.
Just because you submit something doesn’t mean it will be used. In fact, it would be reasonable to assume that more submissions will be skipped than not. When bringing the opportunity to a spokesperson or client, it’s a good idea to use words like “potential” and “consider” so they understand that the reporter is collecting responses from many people to consider for inclusion in their piece. It’s okay if it doesn’t get used!
It’s smart to limit the time you spend responding to reporter queries through these services by being short and selective. But don’t assume that submissions that aren’t used are wasted. Many can be repurposed into another pitch or byline, or they can spark another idea. Save your pitches for adaptation to your media story calendar, reactive response pitching, or bylined content.
While these platforms will never replace PR plans, they can bring opportunities. Focus on a fresh take, then be short, selective, simple, and swift, and you will see a better ROI for the time spent.