By Alexander Hotz, (Mashable) Open Forum
Creating buzz for a small business is difficult. Most small companies don’t have the time to do their own PR and even fewer have budgets big enough to hire outside marketers. That’s where websites like NewsBasis and Help a Reporter Out (HARO) come in. Both claim they make it easier for businesses to connect with reporters who need sources. Today thousands of reporters and businesses find each other on these websites (for free), but will news platforms work for your business? Can you really see a return worth the required time investment, however minimal?
While both HARO and NewsBasis are tight-lipped about their in-house metrics, several users of the sites agreed to share their experiences and tips. Here is what they said:
Staying on Topic Pays Off
Evan Fray-Witzer, a lawyer at the law firm Ciampa Fray-Witzer, has been responding to reporters’ requests on HARO for two years. According to Fray-Witzer, who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and TheStreet.com thanks to HARO, the service is easy to use, doesn’t take much time, and has generated welcome publicity for his firm.
“I try to be very targeted to reporters’ specific requests,” said Fray-Witzer. “If someone is looking for an expert in nuclear science, I don’t respond and say, ‘I’m not a nuclear scientist, but I’ve defended them in employment law cases!’”
Fray-Witzer suggests being sensitive to deadlines, but first and foremost have something interesting to say. “I was able to relate the story of how I helped one of my corporate clients deal with an administrative assistant who had taken to opening her mail with a butcher’s knife and telling co-workers that a mass murderer was her idol,” he said. That anecdote ended up in the Wall Street Journal.
Amanda Steinberg, the founder of DailyWorth.com, started using HARO last year and has so far received three mentions on SocialMoms.com. “Most entrepreneurs don’t personally know journalists working for national publications, making it difficult to break through the noise, especially when you’re competing with savvy, experienced PR representatives with large Rolodexes,” said Steinberg. “I’d say it’s tied with e-mail for effectiveness; it’s free and it works — what else can you ask for?”
Perhaps HARO’s biggest advantage is its wide net. The site boasts nearly 30,000 journalists and more than 100,000 sources. According to its founder Peter Skankman, HARO is responsible for publishing more than 75,000 journalist queries, facilitating nearly 7,500,000 media pitches, and promoting close to 1,500 brands.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
Ken Shuman, the head of communications at the real estate search engine Trulia, said he first started using HARO two years ago and has netted multiple mentions in USA Today on issues dealing with foreclosures, first-time home buyers, and government incentives. But Shuman pointed out that bigger isn’t always better. “HARO is so widely-used and reporters get bombarded with pitches, so your chances of success are more slim,” he explained. With so many sources using HARO, it’s clearly a buyer’s market. Few of the individuals I spoke with had their first pitches successfully picked up.
Recently Shuman began using NewsBasis, which launched this spring, and he’s already scored exposure in Men’s Journal. “They contacted me because we are real estate experts and they asked us to create a list of thriving cities for 2011 where housing will see a positive increase,” said Shuman. “I think it is worth it for companies with specific expertise to be on NewsBasis. When reporters are looking for a reference, this a great way to be front and center.”
Unlike HARO, which divides its users into two camps — sources and journalists — NewsBasis takes a more nuanced approach, asking sources to also list their expertise. Thanks to that additional information, journalists can search for specific sources in addition to releasing a mass request. “I think if you have a ‘specialized expertise,’ NewsBasis will be the gift that keeps on giving,” Shuman said. “The media struggles to find good resources and being listed in NewsBasis is a great way to be found.”
Well-known tech analyst Stowe Boyd is another specialized source who has had success with NewsBasis. “I’ve been contacted about mobile use, future operating systems, and pieces on social technologies,” said Boyd. “I have been in three or four articles already. [And] it took only a few days.”
Less Time, Better Results Than Twitter
Although journalists can turn to other social media tools to pinpoint specialists, Brian J. Greenberg, an IT consultant at General System Dynamics, said platforms like NewsBasis are a superior avenue for promotion. “Twitter, etc. is a crap shoot and journalists have to troll the pools of tweets, blog posts, etc. for qualified sources,” said Greenberg. “NewsBasis provides an option for PR without having to have a large PR budget. Since NewsBasis is currently free, there’s nothing but upside for a small boutique firm like ours.”
Fray-Witzer had a similar experience. “Twitter is fine, I suppose, if you can spend the time to develop a million followers. That’s not really practical for my practice,” he said. “We spend our time representing our clients. The nice thing is that HARO requires very little in the way of a time investment to show really outstanding results.”
While these publicity platforms may not spell the end of the press release, they certainly have made it easier for enterprising businesses owners to get press. For his part, Fray-Witzer recalled a recent breakfast with a friend who runs a high-end PR firm in Boston: “I told him about the Wall Street Journal article, the Washington Post article, and the others and he shook his head and said, ‘You know, it used to be that to get that kind of coverage you would have had to hire someone like me.’”