Sunday, April 19, 2009

He makes $1 million crowdsourcing sources

Peter Shankman, who describes himself as a marathon-running, sky-diving, cat-loving PR guy, says he is grossing nearly $1 million a year by using the web to help reporters find sources for stories.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, a for-profit business that connects Journalists-Creating-A-Narrative with People-Who-Crave-Attention.

What could possibly go wrong?

1:43 AM  
Blogger Steve Lubetkin said...

Peter is the consummate entrepreneur. You can hear him talk about his personal story in vidcasts we produced of his presentations at the River Communications group and PRSA/Philadelphia.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Kendall said...

Excellent write up. I've been a fan of HARO for a while now and find the emails very useful for our startup. It's much easier to pitch the press who want to write about you. Keep hustling!

Kendall Schoenrock
Larger Than Life prints

6:23 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Sounds an awful lot like ProfNet. . .but if he's really clearing $1 million a year, I guess it pays to copy others.

8:37 AM  
Blogger The Ultimate Account Guy said...

I'm one of the many thousands receiving his three emails a day. I haven't been used as a source yet, but keeping my finger crossed. I think it's a great service. If nothing else than just to read what people are writing about.

9:36 AM  
Blogger -30- said...

Call me naive, but every aspect of this feels... seedy.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the article. I will say that I take offense to the word "Flack," and I don't see how helping people who may have had to close their business are are now getting by in this economy is considered an "oops," but other than that, a solid article.

@Joe: Profnet charges money. We don't. That's a key differential. There's no copying involved.

All others: Thanks for the compliments! :)

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Angela Connor said...

Peter is a very smart guy. He is genuine and doesn't waste time bragging. He wants others to learn from him and he even shares his mistakes. He's real, and that what draws people to him, in my opinion. We sat on a panel together once and he is also writing the foreword for my upcoming book "18 Rules of Community Engagement." Click my name for a post on his prediction of the death of the press release. He says 36 months...and that's it.
Angela Connor

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Todd said...

HARO is a wonderful resource for those without the budget for PRNewswire's spendy (as they say in the Pacific Northwest) ProfNet.

Our company was actually featured as a resource today, in fact, for one of HARO's recent postings. Cost to us? Free.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great service ... for reporters too lazy to do their own legwork.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

From ProfNet's home page:

An online community of nearly 14,000 professional communicators, ProfNet was created in 1992 to connect reporters easily and quickly with expert sources at no charge.
We now provide this same free service to other professionals looking for experts, including:

• Academic Researchers
• Authors/Screenwriters
• Bloggers
• Consultants
• Corporate Researchers
• Financial Analysts
• Government Officials
• Industry Analysts
• Meeting Planners
• PR and Marketing Professionals
• Publishers

It doesn't sound like they charge money. . .and it wasn't a criticism, just an observation.

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is he really grossing $1 million per year serving as a go-between?

How much of this goes to his bottom line? That's what matters when the rubber meets the road.

Finally, how sustainable is this business? He's doing exactly what ProfNet has done for years. Even if he's pulling a respectable profit, it won't take much for competitors to come running like the bloodhounds.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous T Heller said...

Certainly, HARO provides value. And I understand *how* that value can be successfully monetized. But what I don't understand is *why* that value is monetized by the sale of ads, to third-parties, on his site.

Doesn't the value flow to the reporters looking for sources? If so, what' the market value *they* place on the HARO service -- as opposed to the third-parties who are simply seeking eyeballs?

I'd like to see someone draw Econ 101 Supply and Demand curves for this market. I know price is on the Y-axis, but what's the label on the X-axis? What is being bought -- news or eyeballs?

Isn't this a bit like the "on-air classifieds" (Want to Sell/Want to Buy) you hear on rural American AM radio stations? Only it's running over the internet?

Makes me wonder whether this constitutes technological progress...

6:54 AM  
Anonymous lookha said...

I don't see what the problem is.
ProfNet and Haro can coexist perfectly, and reality says that they actually do coexist.
You see, we, internet users, are used to use all options available to achieve our goal, be it a holiday plan, reaching a client, get a job, rent a flat, sell stuff or whatever our need may be.
Bottom line is: with internet users numbers growing by the day, and with users never stuck to one single provider, there will always be audience to reach.
The Long Tail, you know...

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I had thought of this.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Glory Promo said...

What! What!....What! And here I am making $50 an hour....But you know it always makes me a bit sad when I remember my days as a magazine writer when I had to find an angle..not so good for finding truth.

8:22 PM  

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