When journalists are seeking experts to quote or feature as TV or radio guests, make sure you maximize your chances of being selected. Katrina Fox offers some tips.
Every day journalists in the US, Canada, UK and Australia send out hundreds of queries or callouts seeking sources for their stories. The two main websites they do this on are HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and SourceBottle.
SourceBottle began in Australia but also now services the US and UK, while HARO is focused predominantly on the US market.
Both these platforms are FREE to sign up to as an expert source and I highly encourage you to subscribe to them. The way they work is you sign up to receive queries (also known as callouts) about your area of expertise and they land in your inbox several times a day.
With HARO, you can sign up to the main list as well as category-specific lists.
With SourceBottle, you can specify keywords that are related to your area of expertise. For example, if you’re a vegan shoe brand, you might list ‘fashion’ as one of your keywords and receive queries from journalists working on fashion-related stories. If you’re a health practitioner, you might list ‘weight loss’ or ‘natural foods’ or ‘healthy eating’ as your keywords and receive queries related to those topics.
In the UK, there are several paid services such as Response Source or Gorkana Media or Journorequests.com that you can sign up for. However, JournoRequests.com works on a ‘freemium’ model. You can sign up for free for its daily digest of callouts, including the plentiful requests sent out on Twitter with the hashtags #journorequest or #PRrequest. With this free service, you get everything, from national mainstream media outlets to small blogs, so you need to sift through the categories to find relevant callouts.
Whatever service you use (and if you’re seeking international media coverage, you may want to subscribe to all three of these free services), you need to remember that journalists receive a LOT of queries, so here’s how to boost your chances of being picked:
Research the media outlet (quickly)
HARO and SourceBottle both have an option for the journalist to remain anonymous. On SourceBottle you may see generic ‘national women’s magazine’ or ‘weekly podcast’ on SourceBottle and only find out the name of the outlet if and when you get a response.
The Journorequests.com daily digest tends to identify the media outlet, with many of the callouts requesting that you reply via Twitter.
If the name of the media outlet is included, do a quick bit of research to ascertain if it’s a good fit for you. There’s another difference between HARO and SourceBottle in that SourceBottle allows small, independent media such as bloggers and podcasters to seek expert sources for quotes and for guest blog writers, but HARO doesn’t.
You need to decide how valuable a particular media outlet is to you and if it’s worth your time and energy to respond to a callout. If it’s a brand new blog or podcast with little reach, it may not be in your best interest to respond.
On the other hand, many small blogs or podcasts grow to have large audiences and if you’ve proved helpful in the beginning, the journalist is more likely to include you again as a trusted and reliable source. Your call.
Don’t spend ages checking out the media outlet because you also need to:
Respond FAST (while still being accurate)
The quicker you are to respond to a journalist’s query on SourceBottle or HARO, the more likely you are to get their attention. Because they receive so many queries, they often run out of energy after combing through the first 20 or so. If they’re on a super tight deadline, they won’t even read that many. So get in quick.
Be succinct (but don’t cut corners)
Don’t send long, rambling responses. Journalists don’t have time to read an essay. Keep your response succinct, but not too short. By this I mean, use full sentences rather than three-word answers to queries, so the journalist can quote you without needing to contact you.
Bullet points can be a good idea, especially if the journalist is requesting tips. Some magazine journalists are seeking tips in a short list format for sidebars to accompany the main editorial feature. It depends on the nature of the query, which brings us to the next point:
Respond precisely (follow the brief)
In 17 years working as a journalist for a range of media, I still find it exasperating that many people (including publicists – some at major PR firms!) seem unable to follow simple instructions when responding to my requests for sources, quotes or contributors.
Make sure you read the callout and determine exactly what the journalist is after. Don’t just scan it, see a particular keyword and then fire off a one-size-fits-all response that doesn’t address the specific requirements of the query.
If the callout asks for five short tips on the latest trends in healthy eating, include those five tips in your response. Don’t send the journalist to your website or an article you’ve written elsewhere on the internet. They don’t have time to search through and look for the information. Make their job easy and put the information they request, in the format they request, right in front of them.
If the query is looking for organic brands and yours is not, don’t waste the journalist’s (or your) time by responding. Only respond to callouts that are a match to what the journalist is looking for.
The example below shows a response by Australian vegan publisher Kathy Divine to a Sourcebottle query asking for people who looked younger than their actual age to be featured in a mainstream women’s print magazine. Note how Kathy’s response provides the journalist with what she’s looking for:
And here’s the resulting coverage (in which Kathy gets to promote the benefits of following a vegan diet to a mainstream audience):
Do NOT pitch other ideas to the journalist. This is against the terms of service for these platforms and it’s bad practice. If you’re tempted to say ‘I know you’re looking for X. But how about Y instead?’, don’t do it. Your query will be deleted and you’ll be mentally listed as an unreliable annoyance in the journalist’s mind which can ruin your chances of future coverage.
Demonstrate your (relevant) expertise
A journalist needs to know that you are qualified to make a comment or be a featured guest on TV or radio. To build their trust, you need to demonstrate your credentials. If you have several areas of expertise, focus on what’s required for the query. For example if you’re a marketer and the query is in regards to social media, show your expertise in social media marketing when responding.
If you’ve won an award that’s relevant to the subject of the callout, include that. If you’ve authored a (bestselling) book on the topic, mention that up front. Don’t be afraid to ‘sell’ yourself. The journalist is looking for a credible expert – it’s your job to establish yourself as that. This is not the time to be modest.
That said, only respond to queries where you DO have the expertise required.
Below is an example my response to a HARO, in which a journalist from the Sarasota Herald Tribune in the US asked for a small, written quote on what the hot business sectors for growth in 2016 were likely to be:
Note how I kept my response succinct, made it relevant to the journalist’s requirements, and demonstrated my expertise by mentioning my vegan business book, website and podcast.
And here’s the resulting coverage, which appeared in both print and online (see how the writer has used my words almost verbatim – a good sign you’ve given a journalist what they want):
Make it easy for journalists to contact you
Include your full signature at the end of your query: name, title, email address, phone number and website URL. If you’re chosen to be featured, the journalist needs this information to hand, especially if they’ve got the quotes they need from your response and don’t need to interview you.
Check your response before sending
Even though you need to respond fast, you still need to edit your response to make sure it’s free of spelling mistakes or typos. The cleaner your copy, the easier the journalist’s job, which puts you ahead of other people whose responses contain errors.
Don’t give up (keep responding)
It can be disheartening to send responses to callouts and not receive a reply. Generally you’ll only get a reply if you’re being considered for an interview or your quotes to be used. Keep responding. Not only is it good practice and you’ll get faster and better with experience, but it can also result in other editorial opportunities down the track.
As Nicole Fallon, assistant editor at Business News Daily, says in her Linkedin article:
“Due to space and time constraints, I’m simply not able to feature every source who answers my query, even if they fit all the criteria I look for. But sometimes I will add a particularly good HARO respondent to my source list and make a note to reach out in the future if I’m writing about that topic again.”
I see far too few businesses that are run on vegan principles responding to journalists’ queries on HARO or SourceBottle, even when the callout is a perfect fit to gain media exposure. So, bear these tips in mind and start responding!