Have you ever read a newspaper article and wondered how the writer found just the right person to comment on an obscure topic? Perhaps it was a magazine article in which the author included quotes that were so incredibly insightful, you marveled at both the perspicacity of the people quoted and the ability of the author to obtain them for an interview. What about a radio interview on a public interest subject? How did the writer/interviewer find someone who was such a perfect fit to the topic? Where did that pithy quote come from? How large a network does this reporter have, anyway? Surely the interviewee can't always be a friend, or even a friend of a friend. What secret stash do these guys have? What database lists all possible experts on every possible topic? One answer just may be HARO.
HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out (www.helpare porter.com; @helpareporter on Twitter; HelpAReporter on Facebook), and it's the brainchild of Peter Shankman. Before HARO, reporters may have turned to their librarians, who would use standard database tricks to uncover experts. More likely, reporters would have asked their friends, family, and possibly stray people they met on the street for a recommendation. Or they would have trolled the internet, in the vain hope that a search on their topic coupled with words such as expert or guru would suddenly reveal an interview candidate.
Shankman is a public relations entrepreneur, the founding editor of AOL Newsroom, the founder of the Geek Factory (a marketing and PR firm), the author of Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them (which he claims he wrote on a round-trip flight from New York to Tokyo), a skydiver (he's @skydiver on Twitter), and a social media consultant. He's also the 11th person to be awarded the Association of Independent Information Professionals' (AIIP) Roger Summit Award, which he received at the AIIP's annual conference in April 2010 in Cleveland (www.aiip.org).
AIIP past-president, Ed Vawter, said that Shankman "embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that befits the Roger Summit Award winner. His Help a Reporter Out has been a tremendous success and shows his grasp of what the web can be used for."
CAPITALIZING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
In his presentation (It's Not Web 2.0. It's Not Web 3.0. It's Simply Life) at the AIIP conference, Shankman reminisced about starting HARO. Naturally gregarious, he enjoyed putting people in touch with others. A journalist would ask if he knew an expert on a topic, and Shankman would find one.
The day he spent many hours tracking down a Nigerian farming expert, however, was too much. His answer: crowd sourcing. He established a HARO presence on Facebook in 2008, quickly outgrew it, and moved to the web.
HARO is free to journalists and to sources. Reporters (almost 30,000 of them are registered) submit a query to be posted to HARO. Writers who use HARO run the gamut from bloggers to major media. Sources (close to 103,000) contact the reporter via a HARO email address to put themselves forward as potential interviewees. What credentials do the sources need to have? Basically none, since Shankman's belief is that "everyone's an expert at something. …