Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can you help a reporter out?

I recently discovered a website that offers a terrific service for free. Whether you are a freelance writer or book author, I believe you'll be interested in checking out, or HARO. The site belongs to Peter Shankman, who heads his own PR agency. The service serves two purposes: journalists (e.g., freelance writers) can submit requests for sources, or individuals (e.g., authors) can subscribe to read the queries and send their info in response.

So whether you're writing an article or want to be cited as an expert in someone's article, this service is an amazing tool to get what you want. Once you've signed up as subscriber, you'll receive three emails a day with anywhere from 15-40+ queries from journalists (which include print, Internet and broadcast media) looking for people to interview for a variety of assignments, and if you're a match you can submit. If you're a journalist looking for a source, you can post a query. He already has over 25,000 subscribers, so getting your request in front of thousands of eyes can beat spending hours on the Internet and phone trying to find someone who meets your needs.

I subscribed to this service about a month ago and found myself emailing clients and friends who I thought were right for various stories. It got too overwhelming to read for myself and others and get any work done, so I directed interested parties to subscribe themselves and sent a tip sheet on how to respond to queries. My original intention was to share the sheet with my clients only, but then I had a "I could've had a V-8" moment and realized everyone could benefit from the tips. So read on if you want to know the right way to respond to a journalist's query or make a blind pitch. (If you need an incentive, my client, Paula Holland De Long, was recently interviewed by Aventura Magazine as a result of replying to a query using these tips.)

How to Respond to a Journalist's Query or Request for Expert Sources
It's very exciting and a good opportunity to reply to a journalist's query or request for expert sources. However, there are conventional rules of procedure to follow, or you risk being labeled a pest rather than a valuable resource! Here's how to submit your expertise, book or product to a media request. (These rules apply to "blind" pitching, too.)
Only respond or pitch if you are an appropriate match for the topic. Don't try to stretch the truth, present yourself to be something you're not or promise what you can't deliver.

Give the request serious thought before dashing out your information. Read the request carefully. What is the angle of the story? Who is the audience? Then present your material in a manner that is consistent with the needs of the story and the audience.

Open with an introduction about why you are writing (I'm writing in response to... or to suggest...). Indicate why you are an expert, but keep to a sentence. "As a licensed physical therapist with Such and Such Medical Group, ...."

Present your information and specify how it is relevant to the subject of the article or show. Make your presentation to the journalist very clear; don't assume that he or she will connect the dots between what you are sending and what they need. If this is a blind pitch, then it's even more important to establish how your information can benefit or be of interest to the audience.

Put your short bio at the end, with your contact information. If you have a book, include "[your name], author of..." Always end with "I'd be happy to provide additional information for this or any other article (show, etc.) that you are preparing about (the subject). Please let me know how else I can help you."

Keep it short. This is not the time to submit your media kit, photo or any self-serving attachments. The purpose of your response is to feed enough information to the journalist to prompt a call or email for more information. If you are contacted, remember that the goal is to serve the press, not to get free publicity. If you help the journalist, your name or product may be cited in the newspaper, magazine or media broadcast. Although that's the ultimate payoff for you, your purpose in replying to requests or sending pitches is to help the journalist do his or her job, which is serving the needs of the audience.

Be mindful of deadlines.

Be realistic. You may think you're the perfect source or match for the journalist's needs, but you won't get a call every time you submit. However, if you establish a pattern of consistent quality and reliability (they can call you for a quote when their deadline is in 15 minutes), then you'll develop a valuable relationship that will pay off for you many times over.

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