He makes $1 million crowdsourcing sources
He crowdsources sources with a nifty and thoroughly modern service called Help a Reporter Out, or HARO. It works like this:
A reporter who needs to interview someone for a story sends Shankman a request, which he adds at no charge to a three-times-a-day email he sends to some 75,000 recipients who are looking for publicity. The recipients include individuals and fellow flacks.
When a source spots a story where she thinks she can help, she contacts the writer and the connection is made. Shankman says 25,000 reporters have used his service and he reckons that nearly all of them have successfully sourced sources in the “12½ months” he has been in business.
For those too rushed to wait for an email, Shankman also posts urgent requests at his perch on Twitter, which had 37,214 followers at this writing.
The subjects requiring experts in one recent email ran from “spirituality during pregnancy” to families facing mortgage foreclosure to “whoopie pies,” which evidently are a Pennsylvania Dutch confection.
Recent urgent tweets sought “people leaving/ready to leave NYC b/c high taxes,” “bosses w/employees afraid they're going to get laid off so they're sucking up” and “therapists: is facebook coming up more in therapy sessions with clients?”
Reporters seeking sources range from freelancers and aspiring book authors to name-brand news organizations like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fox News, Ladies Home Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Motley Fool and the PBS Nightly Business Report.
Shankman makes money by charging between $1,500 and $2,000 for a short, chatty text ad he runs at the top of each email. Recent sponsors have included a service that helps you contact celebrities, a company that sells computer-security software and the makers of the Dot Girl's First Period Kit.
Shankman says the number of email subscribers and source requests has climbed by the week since he launched the service. The rollout has been entirely viral, with one HARO user telling another, telling another, telling another…and so forth.
To keep up with the demand, Shankman said he has hired one editor and one assistant. That would seem to leave a tidy profit for Shankman to share with his sofa-hogging cats, Karma and NASA.
Shankman says he is an early AOL veteran who then operated a New York-based marketing boutique that once served such clients as Disney and American Express. He also wrote a book explaining why companies should stage “outrageous PR stunts.”
Far from being outrageous, the sources who offer themselves up on HARO seem to be legitimate and useful to the journalists, said Shankman in an all-email interview. He admitted, however, that there have been a few “oops” moments.
One case was a family featured in the Wall Street Journal whose business was “being killed” by the economy, said Shankman. “They’re now doing much, much better,” said Shankman. But even that’s “heartwarming,” he adds, ever the flack.