You don’t have to rely solely on your own pitches to get your organization quoted or cited in the media.
Sometimes, you can get coverage by connecting with journalists when they are looking to find an expert as they report their own stories.
But how can you make sure your organization gets the reporter’s call when she or he needs a source in your subject area?
One way is to sign up for an online service in which reporters and bloggers to solicit sources for their stories. These services offer nonprofits with a chance to get daily queries from writers who are working on assigned stories.
It should be noted that responding to these queries won’t guarantee you coverage — reporters tend to get a flood of responses when they use these services. But there are steps you can take to help get your response to the top of the pile.
Before we offer some tips, however, it’s important to provide a bit of background about these online matchmaking services for journalists and the sources who love them.
The best known service is HARO — or Help a Reporter Out. Three times every day, HARO delivers an email to sources that includes dozens of queries from reporters who are looking for experts. The reporters provide descriptions of the stories they are working on — and the type of expertise they are seeking. Each query includes a link where potential sources can reply and say why they should be considered as an expert for the story.
But while HARO is the biggest and most recognized service, it is far from the only game in town. Other options include:
ProfNet — A service of PR Newswire, ProfNet is built for public relations professionals who want to find opportunities to pitch their organizations to journalists. Users set up an online profile and set preferences for the types of queries they are interested in seeing. You are also able to set up your own online profile to establish your credentials and can pitch journalists on your expertise to help them quickly find sources during breaking news stories and events.
SourceBottle — Like the other services, SourceBottle sends emails with reporter queries to potential sources. It also includes a searchable online database of active queries, which makes it easy for time-strapped PR professionals to find queries that line up with their areas of expertise.
PitchRate — Offers an opportunity to search queries online. Many of the queries are from bloggers and websites that are looking for experts to comment or provide written materials for publication.
These resources can be useful to help position experts to reporters who are already working on stories. But they aren’t for everyone.
In addition to the volume of responses many reporters get when they post queries, many of the queries themselves aren’t a great fit for nonprofits. Many of the posts focus on stories related to self help, finance, or national topics.
But if your nonprofit works on health-related issues — or has an expertise in topics such as education and the environment — you are likely to find some queries that connect with your mission. Still, you’ll need to be patient and wade through quite a few requests before you find one worth your time.
If you do choose to respond to a query, it’s important to take a few steps to ensure that you’re providing the reporter something useful. As someone who posted my share of requests on ProfNet back in my reporting days, I can tell you what helped get my attention when I was looking at responses from sources.
Your response should:
- Speak directly to what the reporter is looking for — Reporters who post on these sites already have a story assignment in hand and are often looking to fill a specific hole in their reporting. If he or she needs an expert in early childhood education to offer advice to parents who are sending their first child to kindergarten for the first time, don’t use the query as an opportunity to suggest a story on problems with statewide testing.
- Establish your expertise — Make it very clear why you (or a person at your organization) are the best person to speak about the topic. Talk about your background, what you do, and perhaps even offer a short anecdote that establishes you as someone who knows the topic well.
- Be prompt — Reporters often use services like HARO because they need someone quickly. Journalism is a deadline-driven business. Pay attention to the reporter’s deadline and be sure that you are able to have someone available to comment quickly, as needed.
- Include tips and quotable material — While your response should be succinct, it should also be specific. If the reporter is looking for advice on a particular topic, include a handful of tips that he or she can plug into the story, if they’re short on time. You can even provide a useful quote that can be attributed to you or another person at your organization.
- Provide contact information — Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for the reporter to include your expertise in his or her story. To help the process along, provide your phone number and email address. You should also include a link to your organization’s website (in case he or she wants to do some quick research on who you are) and any relevant social media links (such as your Twitter handle or Facebook page).
Keep in mind that you can do all of the above and still not make the cut. Like other PR tactics, services like HARO are competitive. A reporter might only have time or space to include one response in his or her story. As a result, the reporter has to leave out a number of legitimate and credible sources.
But being smart about crafting your responses will increase your chances of getting results.
Peter Panepento is principal at Panepento Strategies, a full-service content, digital, and social strategy firm for nonprofits and socially-minded companies. He was formerly an assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy and a senior vice president at The Council on Foundations. He also serves as Nonprofit Marketing Guide’s adviser on public relations.