Adweek: HARO is $800k Business

First on PRNewser: We’ve obtained an advance copy of Andrew Adam Newman’s feature story to appear in this Monday’s Adweek on the latest in the epic ProfNet vs. HARO battle. Both services match up journalists with potential sources. Not familiar? Catch up here, here and here.

Newman is the first to conduct one-on-one interviews with both Dan Forbush (Profnet’s creator) as well as Peter Shankman (HARO’s creator). And, he got something out of Shankman that we did a little while ago, but were asked by him not to publish: he makes a lot of money on HARO.

From Newman’s feature story:

While he charges nonprofits and small advertisers less, Shankman says on average he charges $1,250 for a text-only ad atop both his weekday morning and evening e-mails, and $650 for afternoon sponsorships, which usually are employment ads. That’s $3,150 a day, or more than $800,000 a year-for what he estimates takes him an hour and a half daily.

Also raised in the article were conflict of interest arguments:

And Shankman still, of course, has a stable of clients who stand to benefit from him being HARO’s gatekeeper. He says he never withholds a journalist’s query from the list, but he does give his own clients a first look at the queries and occasionally responds to a reporter’s query himself before he sends it out.

“If it can benefit my clients, I’d be lying if I didn’t say they got it a few hours before the HARO list,” Shankman says.

In addition, Adweek did some research to see if there is any overlap between the two services:

Adweek compared HARO and ProfNet offerings in the last week of August, and found that the upstart offered nearly as many queries from reporters – 369 to ProfNet’s 420. But as for duplicate queries, only 30 of ProfNet’s queries appeared on HARO, just 7 percent.

We sat down with Newman today to get his take on the story, as well as some other hot PR topics.

[image: Andrew Adam Newman]

When asked how he was able to get permission to print HARO’s revenue numbers, Newman states, “I emailed him [Shankman] confirmation, he didn’t try to talk me out of it.” Of course, the story came about via Shankman, ever eager to promote his service. Says Newman, “I freelance for the Times, and I was forwarded a pitch that Peter had made to Stuart Elliott. At that point, I ended up working with a client of Peter’s, Disaboom, a website for people with disabilities.”

“It was that way that Peter first ended up on my Rolodex. He sent me a note on this early on and certainly has pitched it to me. Peter unapologetically has been promoting this. Promoting is not a dirty word in his lexicon.”

Newman says of ProfNet, “they were amenable to speaking, but they did not pitch me. I had left messages for Dave Weiner [a PRNewswire exec]. A publicist got back to me and got me a sit down with Dave Armon [PRNewsire President], with no flack in the room and he was appreciative, because he hadn’t been contacted before. Dan Forbush I found on my own: He actually finally left ProfNet last year and works in the PR office of Skidmore College now.”

So after the pitch, were did the story go from there?

“I thought the rivalry was interesting between the two groups,” says Newman. “I was thinking more broadly. I pitched it at first, as ‘The making of an expert: Where do experts come from?’ The idea of marketing through getting people cited as credible experts in news stories, the fact that it’s a marketing strategy, that’s interesting to me. It’s an interesting sausage factory story.”

When asked if he has used either service, Newman states, “I would consider using these services for certain stories. I’ve never used them before. I would consider using them if I was doing something really obscure and I couldn’t find some other way to get info.”

Do editors at major publications look down upon these services?

“I’ve never had a discussion with an editor at the Times about HARO or ProfNet. There is nothing in my Times freelance contract that precludes it. There are great Times reporters, WSJ reporters who use it. Both services brag about the top shelf news services who are using it.”

Despite many reporters using the services, Newman echoes a common concern of reporters not wanting to broadcast their story ideas to thousands of PR pros and potential competitors in advance. “I’d be concerned about getting my pocket picked,” he says. “And I talked to people who have been using Profnet who haven’t gotten their pocket picked. There are ways of using it where you can make the angle sort of oblique, but I think of my story ideas of being so proprietary, that I wouldn’t want to broadcast it out to the world.”

Regardless of the journalist’s tactics, a lot of money is being made, both with ProfNet and HARO. Discussing Shankman’s motives, Newman states:

“I think it’s accurate to say that his motive is philanthropic, at least originally. But people who are seeing this as purely him being Mother Theresa and not seeing that he is also being Rupert Murdoch are kind of missing half of it. This isn’t strictly philanthropy, it’s entrepreneurial.”

Addressing conflicts of interest – Shankman running HARO while also giving his clients first dibs at the listings, Newman doesn’t see it as a huge issue. “My guess would be is that even if it has benefited his clients, it hasn’t been to the detriment of others on the list. But I still think that with the people from ProfNet, the point is still well made. It’s like a realtor being a property speculator or a realtor being a landlord.”

There is no doubt of the outcome here for Newman. “He’ll do the same thing Forbush [ProfNet founder] did, he’s going to sell this.”

Asked what his take is on other stories that have addressed the ProfNet versus HARO battle, Newman says, “I don’t want to be too critical of the guy on the Industry Standard [Jordan Golson], it seemed he did more old school reporting than most blogs do. It may have been a little less reporting than you do in the NY Times. This guy was really sympathetic with what Peter is doing, as are a lot of bloggers. I don’t know if it’s fair to hold the Industry Standard, which is obviously a guy with a perspective writing an informed opinion, to say that it’s not balanced, that seems kind of silly. It’s a blog, not an objective news source. And ProfNet is owned by a multi-national conglomerate, I don’t think you need to rock and hold them because some blogs are representing this thing as a David and Goliath story. However, I do think ProfNet got demonized a bit more than they should have in some of those things.”

That being said, ProfNet certainly has options. Says Newman, “If Peter really starts to drink ProfNet’s milkshake, they can always change they’re revenue model.'”

When asked how, Newman states, “I think they do the same thing. If they lose subscribers, they can lower their subscription rate, or they can sell ad listings on top of it. They can tweak the model to do advertising. It’s just a revenue model. There are publications that raise and lower subscription fees.”

But who do you think would buy it, a Market Wire? Business Wire?

“Business Wire seems like it’s the most formidable competitor. Others have started this sourcing kind of service before, but they haven’t been able to make a go of it. It may be one of those guys that doesn’t have a credible service. It may be the same thing that Forbush did, where someone buys the company and Peter keeps doing the same thing.”

So how did a PR story get into Adweek?

“I was hired by Adweek to write more broadly about the advertising and marketing climate and not necessarily about agency dynamics. And if they did hire me to write about agency dynamics they’d be in big trouble because it’s not my thing.”

“Adweek is interested not just in advertising, but what brands are doing to get in front of consumers. I usually still have some sort of an advertising peg, but they’re interested in broader stories.”

“A lot of times my editor’s first comment on a story, is she’ll say ‘this is interesting but it’s not an Adweek story,’ she says that half jokingly now too, because one of the things the magazine is trying to do is inform people at ad agencies about the broader climate.”

Do you get more pitches now that you’re full time at Adweek?

“I heavily deflect, so as soon as I start to get a bunch of out of nowhere pitches, I email the people back and say ‘why are you sending me this’ or ‘where did you get my name,’ and usually they bought it from someone. I called Cision last week to ask them to remove me from their list.”

“I do everything I can to get off of non-targeted pitch lists. If I can’t get off your list, I can write about it. I have a standard email I send back to publicists saying, I’m not interested in being on a mass email list, but I do welcome PR if you’re going to give me a specific pitch, before anybody else.”

What do you think about “outing” PR pros? Do readers care to read about that kind of stuff?

“I think it is being too inside baseball. With the Chris Anderson thing, I haven’t thought a whole lot about the morality of it all. When I wrote about it for the Times, I sent everyone on his list an email. I thought it would be a funny stunt to do. I don’t think I mentioned it, but that’s how I got a lot sources for that story.”