As a reporter, I often look for sources for the stories I write in this column. Many are based on business connections I have, or on events I attend. But when I want to find you, the startup entrepreneurs, I usually look to another startup, HARO - Help a Reporter Out.
HARO was started by entrepreneur and author of Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work - And Why Your Company Needs Them, Peter Shankman. I recently appeared on a panel with Peter at PRCamp NY, and beforehand we were talking about how HARO started.
"It grew out of my own needs. Reporters I knew were constantly asking me if I had a source about different subjects," Peter told me. He started gathering his friends and sources in a Facebook Group, quickly outgrew the group, and created a Page for HARO. Facebook didn't have the tools Peter needed to manage the list, so he started using an email list provider. In about a year, his list has grown to over 300,000 readers.
HARO is now a three-times-a-day newsletter that lists reporter's source requests, and lets the potential sources contact the journalists. If you're a small startup, you have the same chance as any large business to be quoted about your expertise - just read HARO right when it comes out and respond appropriately. (Don't forget to read section 3.2 - the rules of HARO .) Daily, journalists from major media outlets are finding sources via HARO. "The list has gone from being a tool for PR people to being a tool for small business," said Shankman. "The 97% of the businesses in this that are small businesses still need good PR, but HARO helps level the playing field, especially for startups."
While Shankman started HARO to get his reporters and sources together without him as a direct intermediary, he also knew he had a revenue source. As this is a valuable, opt-in list of sources and journalists, Shankman and his team sell the space in the first paragraph of each mailing. Since inception, HARO has promoted about 1250 different small and mid-sized businesses to the list of over 300k people.
This stream of cash (3 ads a day, roughly 250 business days a year, or 750 ads per year, and about 1.7 MM emails per month) has generated over $1 million dollars in revenue in the first year. Shankman now employs 5 paid staff.
Do-It-Yourself Publicity Expert Nancy Juetten promoted her Bye Bye Boring Bio guide on Haro and said "I got to break even [on the ad cost] within 12 hours. Blog visits have escalated dramatically. Ezine sign ups have escalated, too." Leslie Haywood, Founder of Grill Charms said her HARO ad propelled her and her company to secure over 50 media opportunities for her company, including Parenting, Health, and NBC.com. All of her media exposure from her HARO ad led to an appearance on ABC's hit small business reality show "Shark Tank."
While PRNewswire's Profnet performs much of the same function - connecting reporters and sources, the service is subscription only. Shankman says they're not a competitor. "We're targeting 307 million small business owners who haven't heard of us yet."
Final advice for startups from serial entrepreneur Shankman? "Never listen to the naysayers - worst that happens, it fails and I go do something else."