Dinner with Peter Shankman, Creator of HARO

If you're in the media, public relations biz, or an expert in some area the media cares about, you should know Peter Shankman and his Little Mailing List That Could, called HARO (Help A Reporter Out). I've been on the mailing list since just about the beginning, and am a smarter guy for it.

Why "help a reporter out?" Shankman was a PR guy who knew more people and connections than the normal PR person, and that's saying something.  After all, PR people developed social networking by knowing people who should know about their clients. Shankman's clients tended to be bigger companies with broad reach, and he knew more people than most. He was also happy to share those contacts with those who asked. That's not always the norm with PR folks, many of whom treat their contacts like state secrets.

Shankman is doing a video interview for HP (Hewlett-Packard, not Harry Potter) in their new Small Business Influencers series. I'm lucky to be included in this list as well, which is why I was in San Francisco having dinner at a great restaurant (Town Hall) sitting across from Shankman. When the videos come out, I'll let you know.

So many people started asking Shankman for sources in so many areas, he finally started a Facebook page for the group. Before long, he outgrew that and moved it to a mailing list. The numbers grew into the thousands, then tens of thousands, all following Shankman's rules about behaving responsibly when contacting the reporters who requested information. His rules are strict: pitch a story outside the request and get dropped from the list. Shankman is sole arbiter of the list, and if you think he won't protect his list and reputation, you'll be off the list in no time, often with public shaming for those truly clueles PR folks who screw up. Now that his list is up to almost 80,000 names, he's more protective than ever.

He now takes advertising, which appears as a few lines of text and a link or two at the top of one of the three daily e-mails. Response for advertisers, if Shankman can be believed, is wonderful. As he said at dinner, what company wouldn't want 5,000 or more reporters and thousands more media players to read their ad? He has an open rate of about 88 percent, which is about 87 times better than almost any other mailing list open rate.

Why does this work? HARO provides good service in a simple, easy presentation. The ads are interesting, and more interesting are the personal bits Shankman writes about after the ad and before the queries. It's a quick read, and almost immediately you feel like each e-mail is a note from a friend. By the way, that's a great recipe for success in any mailing

If you have the pleasure of meeting Shankman in person, as I did, trade business cards. I think mine's cool, but Shankman's is a picture of him skydiving. Even better, it's on a Vegas-style casino chip.

Sign up for the list, and relearn the value of a simple text e-mail campaign done well. It's done so well, Shankman closed his PR biz and does HARO full time now, along with speeches and consulting about "Marketing*Events*Creativity." But behave on the list. And when you see him, ask him about macaroni and cheese croquettes.

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