|HARO founder Peter Shankman|
I confess. I’ve never been a huge fan of HARO, the free crowd-sourced service for journalists seeking topic experts or human examples to validate their story’s premise. While following its founder never ceases to disappoint, the service itself, in my mind has fallen short in its net benefit to the PR profession.
ProfNet, owned by PR Newswire, makes its money through (pricey) paid subscriptions, while HARO is ad-supported. Every emailed HARO distribution opens with a cutely worded text ad promoting some eclectic product or service, often aimed at PR pros.
Anyone, just anyone, can freely register to receive HARO and respond to its reporters’ story queries. While ProfNet’s subscription model naturally attracts PR professionals with budgets for such things. BTW, ProfNet’s name comes from its first (exclusive) user set — in-house communications pros at academic institutions who’d mine their professorial ranks for the expertise sought.
By opening up its service to any Tom, Dick or Harry, HARO may broaden the size of the crowd (a good thing), but it also increases the likelihood of superfluous replies arriving in journalists’ e-mailboxes from laypersons and PR-wannabes. I’m not saying that PR people are immune to sending reporters such SPAM, but the likelihood certainly is greater with lay audiences.
This model, in my mind, hurts the PR profession, which presumably knows more about deciphering journalists’ true editorial intent, and can offer up a more relevant expert. Given HARO’s democratic approach, PR pros must also compete for reporters’ shrinking bandwidth with small business owners, mothers, and anyone else who fashions him or herself an expert.
That said, this week we learn that HARO’s new owner, Vocus, no stranger to PR spam, will introduce a subscription-based HARO as a complement to the free service. I like this idea. Though HARO founder Peter Shankman quickly sought to clarify the news with these comments here.
If Vocus were smart, it would make the paid service for journalists seeking real experts, and the free service for journalists seeking human examples. For example, here’s one from today for the free version:
“I am writing a piece on people who, in mid-career, are either
forced or choose to make a dramatic shift in career. I am
interested in how they overcame doubts and fears, and what it
took to succeed in a wholly different line of work.”
And here’s another from today, a candidate for the paid service:
“I’m reviewing the most recent audit of a tribal Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that has had
numerous financial accountability problems with state and federal
money in the past, and appears to have some again. I’m looking
for an expert source with a government audit background willing
to give this audit report a look…”
Many reporters’ queries could apply to both sets of crowds. Whatever direction Vocus takes HARO, hopefully with Mr. Shankman’s blessing, the model of reporters crowdsourcing experts is clearly a sound one and should evolve as the number journalists explodes. Let’s keep an eye on it.