How to reply to a PR query- and how not to

Many small biz owners and marketing pros use  HARO – Help A Reporter Out – for free media queries. It’s DIY PR, served up in 3 daily emails.  But listen up, people: as with everything DIY, you must “do it right” to get results. And many folks do not. Having seen the other side of HARO replies as a writer looking for sources, I can tell you the view is pretty darn ugly.

I highly recommend HARO to all of my clients as an easy way to get press. Peter Shankman’s brilliant idea delivers queries right to your inbox from journalists, authors, and even talk show producers on topics ranging from business to lifestyle to health to finance.It takes about 5 seconds to scan the query summaries and see if a topic fits your expertise. There are over 100,000 folks signed up and his email open rates are ridiculous (over 90%) for advertisers (he includes 1 small ad per email).

I took out a HARO ad once to sell my eBook and my shopping cart lit up like Christmas over the following week.

But sometimes people are their own worst enemies, especially with anything DIY. I use HARO for me and my clients to promote our businesses. But as a writer on the side, I also get to use HARO on the other side: as a journalist and author.

I recently posted a query for a new book I’m publishing, due out Spring/Summer 2010 (more on that later) looking for innovative brand examples from small or large businesses. I want to profile, in small sidebars, different Brands at Work, where businesses use unique and innovative ways to express their brands both experientially and visually.

I asked for answers to 7 specific questions in my query.  With the amount of responses you get from HARO, you need some format for screening and for your own sanity. I explained very clearly in the query what I was looking for….assuming people would read it in its entirety before responding.

This proved to be an inaccurate assumption.

So many people sent me page-long emails extolling the virtues of their business’ brand. I had to politely tell them to answer the questions in the query in order to be considered. One person even admitted to not seeing the questions, as she didn’t read the rest of the message truncated from her Blackberry. Another send me 7 photo attachments after I specifically said “no attachments.” Um, hello?

The reason PR pros are so good at their jobs is that they know how to handle the press. They know reporters are on deadline, and often need something in near-complete form before they will use it in an article. They need crisp soundbites. They have no time to spend on reading 8 paragraph emails of the source’s life story. If they get a good taste, they will then follow up if need be.

Here, then, is a list of PR query do’s and don’t for your DIY’ers out there, from my perspective as a writer:

DO read the query in full and only send what is asked. It’s a courtesy to respect the person’s time.

DO keep it short and sweet and provide your name, title, website, and contact information for follow up.

DO include clever soundbites/hooks that could be easily quoted in the story.

DO use bullet points for your main points, as it’s easier to scan.

DO put “HARO” or other such source in the email response subject line for easy sorting

DON’T send 8 paragraphs about you or your business that have little to do with what is asked for in the query. Sending more info is a bad thing, not a good thing. I won’t even spend the time to wade through the response to find a good nugget, as I’ll be so peeved.

DON’T respond to queries that do not apply to you. Period.

DON’T send attachments. EVER.  Unless asked. If the reporter needs something for follow-up, they will ask for it.

DON’T rush it (assuming the article is not due by end of day). If you wait an extra day to reply back with the exact info requested (or wait until you can read the whole query on your computer back at the office) this is much better than sending a response that is not what I wanted. Most reporters won’t be as nice as me and ask you to resubmit, they will just delete your email.

If you are an agency responding on behalf of a source, please follow all the do’s and don’ts above.

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