This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum.
Any press may be good press, but good press is even better. Yet, how do you stand out among your competitors and catch the attention of journalists? The traditional route is to pitch your story directly to reporters and hope it’s compelling enough that they’ll bite, or to offer your expertise around breaking news topics with your fingers crossed that the reporter is even working on a story about whatever that might be. Another option, however, is to respond to requests on sites that connect reporters with sources.
The most well-known of those is probably Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Started by Peter Shankman in 2008, it now connects over 100,000 sources with nearly 30,000 journalists. There are others, too — Media Kitty, FlackList, ProfNet, NewsBasis and Reporter Connection, are among the most active. These communities have grown so popular, that it’s now difficult for sources to stand out on these platforms, as well.
We spoke with Heather Kirk, the founder of Media Kitty, and Jennifer Nichols, CEO of FlackList, to get some tips on how sources can improve their chances of being noticed when responding to queries from journalists.
1. Be Fast
Speed matters when it comes to catching the eye of a busy journalist for two reasons. First, he is probably operating on deadline, so getting connected to a solid source quickly is important. Second, there are a huge number of other qualified sources trying to catch his eye at the same time. The last time I used one of these sites to find interviewees for a story, I received more than 100 email responses in the first six hours. That’s a lot to sort through, and the further out from my query, the more likely it was that I had already found the sources I needed to complete my piece.
“Respond as soon as you see the query and well before the deadline,” advises Nichols. “Once a reporter has what he/she needs, he doesn’t usually continue sifting through query responses.”
2. Be On Target
One thing all journalists universally hate is having their time wasted. Make sure when responding to a query on any of the aforementioned sites that your pitch is on target. Journalists are looking for sources that match their needs, not people who maybe, sort of, might have some expertise in a kind of, semi-related area.
“Don’t respond to a query unless what you are offering is truly a fit,” says Nichols, who advises that responses be kept to the point and devoid of fluff, but still full of relevant information. “The trick here is to still keep it short while including the pertinent info.”
Kirk also advises keeping the clutter out of your pitch and finding a unique — but still germane — angle to set yourself apart. “Relevant, researched and realistic replies score best. Attaching their hook to your material is key — colorful examples, links to fitting images, engaging background briefs and on-target experts with clout, character and ready accessibility all help set you apart,” she says.
3. Be Honest
“Don’t bait and switch,” says Nichols. “If you offer an executive for an interview, make sure you can deliver. Reporters don’t have the time or patience for your CEO to somehow now be on a plane to Rome and have only an assistant VP able to chat.”
Coming off as dishonest is the best way to sour what could have been a long-term relationship with a reporter. If a journalist doesn’t think he can trust you, there’s very little incentive to ever quote you (or your client) as an expert in the future.
“Many sources see every journalist lead as an opportunity to finagale their way into publicity, jazz up their client reports or nurture new contacts. Leads can offer all of these, but only if you tackle replies with transparency and sincerity,” notes Kirk.
4. Be Personal
Remember that when using these types of source-matching sites, yours is likely one of hundreds of responses that the reporter has received. Sometimes a personal touch goes a long way toward making you stand out from the crowd.
“A well-written, personalized and targeted response where there is a clear fit will get you noticed,” says Kirk.
Similarly, Nichols advises Googling journalists before pitching them to familiarize yourself with what they write. “Check out the style of their stories and how they typically present info and mimic that in your pitch,” she says.
5. Be Precise
Make sure your responses are accessible. No reporter has time to sift through a wordy or poorly composed pitch to try to find that nugget of expertise or the unique perspective that you might be able to offer. Craft a response that is straightforward and to the point and you’ll increase your chances of being tapped as a source.
“Make your reply easy to scan with bullet points and rich context. Rather than bulk up an email with attachments that call for an extra step to open and review, links are handier. Keep your response lean yet workable, colorful yet specific. Look for niche services that tailor to specific beats to up your odds even more,” says Kirk.