NewspaperWhen it comes to promoting your business or building your brand, it often takes money to help move things along. Deep pockets can really help, and it’s often the case that you get what you pay for. To paraphrase my father, in one of his moments of sharing wisdom, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!”

If you don’t spend much, you won’t get much is the premise. But there are some exceptions, including Help a Reporter Out (HARO), Pitchrate, Profnet and other PR / media listing services.

HARO and the other services provide a way for journalists to post queries on a specific topic, for an article or book that they’re working on. They’re seeking out information or direct quotes that can help them with their deliverables.

This is where you come into the picture. For example, by subscribing to receive HARO queries, you’ll get a list of such questions from journalists three times a day. If you find a question for which you have a good answer, and can in fact help a reporter out with what he or she is seeking, you can email your response. If the reporter finds what you have to say to be useful, you might get a quote or even a link back to your website. I got quoted in the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report and Forbes with my money management blog.

Folks, this is what we call free publicity. That’s a good thing, when you aren’t operating with much of a budget!

You might be wondering, “What’s the catch? And I thought you said there was no such thing as a free lunch!”

The catch is that it’s competitive to get noticed. Therefore, you need to respond strategically. This means being mindful of how you respond, and giving yourself a chance to stand out from the crowd to get noticed, and quoted in some prominent media outlets.

I’ve had some success doing this, which has been rewarding. Here are seven tips:

  1. Answer the Question that is Actually Being Asked. When reporters are asking questions, they have a specific need for certain types of information or quotes. If you want to be considered, pay attention to what they want. For example, if they’re looking to speak with someone with experience with Pinterest marketing, don’t respond with how you have marketed via Facebook or Twitter. Focus on what they specifically want, and don’t go off on a tangent. Ever.
  2. Pay Attention to Their Source Requirements – But Not Too Exactly. Reporters are often looking for a specific type of respondent, in order to provide credibility to what they are writing. For example, if they’re looking for a response to a money-related query, they might want to hear from a financial planner. If your vocation is entirely different – say you’re a horticulturist – don’t bother to respond, because (sorry to say) there isn’t much professional credibility behind the response. However, if you’re a horticulturist who also happens to run a financial blog or business on the side, then go ahead. You’re at least within the realm of what they’re looking for.
  3. State Your Credentials Up Front. Yes, we covered the qualifications part. But you need to be sure to communicate this aspect right way. I prefer doing this in the first paragraph.
  4. Be Concise. Even if you follow the first tip above, and answer the question they’re asking, don’t go into massive detail. Give them a concise, quick answer to what they’re looking for. If they want more details, they can contact you. If you throw everything, including the kitchen sink at them up front, they’ll probably delete your email in a nanosecond. I suggest keeping your email to just a few paragraphs.
  5. Be Prompt. Reporters have deadlines. Thus, they will provide a deadline by which they need to receive responses.  If they want all responses to come within 24 hours, they mean it. But you should do better. You should try to be one of the very first responders. Otherwise, if they already have what they need after just a few hours of the query being live, you might be totally out of luck.
  6. Be Courteous. Being nice can go a long way. Now, sucking up to a reporter will get you nowhere, which brings us to the part of not being annoying. Don’t badger them with follow-up emails, and don’t be condescending in any way. Remember, if you want free publicity, you want to stand out above the crowd – in a good way.
  7. Don’t Give Up. Kind of like how one might have to kiss a lot of frogs to find that prince, you might have to keep trying. Be persistent in your approach. Try and try again with different queries, until you find a formula that works for you.

If you follow these seven tips, you will go a long way toward achieving success. Eventually, you just might get a few major media mentions that could give you great exposure and help build your brand and business!

(Editor’s note: Want more low and no cost strategies? Grab your copy of our 60 Low & No Cost Marketing and PR Strategies here.)