Inbound Now #7 - How Traditional PR is changing with Peter Shankman


David: Hey everybody. Welcome to episode number 7 of Inbound Now. Today I have with me Peter Shankman. Peter is the founder of Help a Reporter Out. He’s the author of two books, “Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World” and “Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them.” He also runs his own agency, the Geek Factory. Welcome to the show, Peter.

Peter: Thanks. Good to be here.

David: All right. So I wanted to get you on the show today to talk a little bit about the story behind Help a Reporter Out and why businesses should be leveraging this free service, how PR is changing with the world increasingly moving online, and then I have some fan questions that were submitted for you as well.

Peter: Sure.

David:             Can you tell the audience a little bit more about what HARO is and why they should be using it and why it would be beneficial to their business?

Peter: Help a Reporter Out is actually a very simple concept. Reporters all over the world are always looking for sources for all of their stories, whatever they’re working on. We’ve created a system where reporters can submit those queries to us. [swspullquoteright] Publicity can always really help your brand and help really build your business or build you yourself into a bigger powerhouse. [/swspullquoteright]We then send them out three times a day on a mailing list to what is about 200,000 members now. You get those queries, and if you can answer the journalist, you do so immediately and you can wind up in the paper. It’s actually a very easy, very simple way to get your name out there. Whatever it is you’re doing, whatever company you’re running or however it is you’re doing it, publicity can always really help your brand and help really build your business or build you yourself into a bigger powerhouse. That’s what Help a Reporter does.

David:             So it’s matching those journalists with the actual sources, and it’s kind of a win-win there. You build your company’s credibility or your own. I think it’s an awesome service. I’ve been on the list for a while now, and I’ve found it pretty useful.

Peter: Yeah, it’s really helpful. Journalists get what they want, sources get exposure, everyone wins.

David: You started it as a Facebook fan page, right?

Peter: I did. I started it as a Facebook fan page as a favor to some journalists I knew who were always looking for sources on deadline. Next thing I knew, it grew into this massive thing that it is now where it’s generating a lot of revenue. It was acquired several months ago by a much larger company for quite a decent bit of money. So yeah, everyone wins.

David:              Is it evolving as things move forward?

Peter: Everything evolves. You get an acquisition, everything really does evolve. I’m focused on not really changing it at all. I want to keep it the way it is, and so it really hasn’t changed. It’s getting bigger. We’re getting more journalists using it on a regular basis; which is great for the sources, great for everyone using it, but we’re really taking care not to change what works. You have something that works, there’s no reason to mess with it.

David: In a lot of your talks, you mention how PR is changing. Instead of businesses going out and getting their own PR, they should be building evangelists that go out and build the PR for them. So what would be some great ways for companies to build these evangelists?

Peter: PR has really moved into more of the world of customer service, and if you can treat your customers well, they will do your PR for you. So the best thing to do, the first thing is to make sure your business is focused on excellent customer services so that customers have a reason to go out and tell your story and say why you’re so great and tell everyone why they love you so much. No one tells a better story than a happy customer, and no one will tell that story better to people who trust them already than a happy customer. So you make that customer feel like they matter, and they’ll go out and they’ll tell everyone else how great you are.

David: Awesome. What are some of the most common mistakes you see people making today in PR, both in traditional and online?

Peter: I think the number one thing is you don’t want to talk about yourself that much. Too many people really talk about themselves and make it more about themselves and less about the customers. You really want to make it about the customer, and you do that by listening and as long as you’re listening to your customer, you then become that company that listens and follows through and fixes stuff when there’s a problem. Customers love that. Again, that will turn your customers into fans for life. And like I said, they’ll do your PR for you. That’s really what you want them to do. You want them to be the ones going out there and talking about how great you are to all of their friends. That’s how you’ll grow your business.

David: Right. That’s just more credible them saying it rather than you saying about it yourself, right?

Peter: Exactly. I always joke it’s like being at a bar and going up to a woman at a bar and going, “You don’t know me but I’m awesome. You should come home with me.” She’s going to throw a drink in your face. But [swspullquoteright] if her best friend sees you and goes, “Oh my God, you should go home with him. He’s awesome. I know him,” you’re going to get laid. [/swspullquoteright] if her best friend sees you and goes, “Oh my God, you should go home with him. He’s awesome. I know him,” you’re going to get laid.

David: There you go. In a lot of your talks you also mention four rules:  transparency, relevance, brevity, and keeping top of mind. So on transparency, talking about transparency, why is it now more important than ever to be transparent online?

Peter: The thing about transparency is really simple in the respect that it’s no longer a question of if you’re going to screw up. It’s really a question of when. And when you screw up, it’s going to get out there and people are going to know about it. So if that’s going to happen, your best bet to avoid that is to get out in front of it. If you do screw up, because you know what’s going to happen, you’re transparent about it. You say, “You know what? We did screw up. We’re taking responsibility for it. Here’s what we did. Here’s how we intend to fix it.” By doing that, you’re preventing anyone from finding out anything about you and saying, “Look how bad they are.” You’re getting in front of the problem and saying, “You know what? We did screw up. Here’s how we’re going to fix it and here’s how we’re going to learn from it.” It allows you to really be in front of the problem, and people don’t think, they’re lying or they’re caught lying, whatever. When you have a problem, you get in front of it and you say, “Here’s what we did wrong and here’s how we’re going to fix it for next time.” You won’t lose the confidence of your customers that way.

David: True, I totally agree. On the other topic, keeping top of mind, top of mind presence. How do you do that?

Peter: For me, it’s really as simple as just talking to people on a regular basis. Calling people who I might not have spoken to in a while saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” Talking to them. Not asking them for anything, but rather just talking to them and seeing what they’re working on, finding out how I can help them. A lot of it really comes down to how we can help other people as opposed to what they can do for us. If you work it by asking what you can do for other people, you tend to just get a lot more out of it because people always want to feel like you care and not that you’re just pushing them to do something or to get something out of them. It really is, in a lot of ways, basic common sense.

David: I saw on your blog or somewhere you say happy birthday to everyone on Facebook when it’s their birthday, just kind of keeping in touch. Are there any other tools, or how do you manage that and reach out to people and remember to keep in touch?

Peter: I’m a believer that you want to reach out to people. Again, I tend to look at people on Facebook, see what they’re doing, and figure out if there’s a way to match them. I might make notes that this guy on Facebook is very into golf or whatever. If I happen to see an interesting golf story, maybe I’ll post it on his wall. Just something to let him know I’m thinking about him and stay top of mind, and it helps them out.

David:            You’ve grown a pretty massive network over the years. One of our fan questions, it’s actually Kipp Bodner, he heads up the blog here at HubSpot. He asks, “What are some of your secrets for building those relationships with media and with influencers?”

Peter: I think one of the big things you want to do is you really want to talk to people, again, not trying for anything. You want to find out what they like and engage them in conversation as opposed to simply throwing stuff out there and broadcasting stuff out there. Too many people post stuff out there and just say, “Here’s my stuff. Read it.” It’s more about, “If my audience is following me, what are they interested in? What do they want to know about? And can I give them stuff that matters to them?” The more you do that, the more they actually want to hear what you have to say.

David: Right. Then another question. Our CEO, Brian Halligan wrote a post a while back claiming traditional PR is dead and press releases are largely ignored today. Would you agree with that statement, and where do you see that trend moving forward into the future?

Peter: I think that the press release is not necessarily dead, but you really need to be much more aware of what you’re saying in it. It needs to be much more about using good SEO and making sure that the information you have in it can be shared and replicated. It’s not just sending a release out to a journalist and hoping they write about it. That doesn’t work anymore. So press releases are still valuable, but they have to be valuable for the right reasons.

David: And have you see any examples of people getting press mentions from maybe like a news site, like Quora or LinkedIn Answers? Would you say that’s a viable tactic for getting that traditional press?

Peter: I’ve seen some people use it. I don’t really know if it’s been that successful, but I have seen some people use it to varying degrees. I think it really comes down to what works better for you. I haven’t seen it work that great for those people … I think if you try hard enough, yeah, you can get press on anything, but you really do want to be aware. It comes down to really where is your media audience? Where is your media audience hanging out, and are you more beneficial to them in various places? So if you’re more beneficial to them in somewhere like a Quora, great. Stay there. But know where your audience is, know where your journalists are, know where they’re spending their time, and reach them wherever they happen to be.

David: Right. With a service like HARO, you’re helping them out because you mention that journalists are now doing the jobs that five journalists used to do. They used to have way bigger staff.

Peter: No question about it. Yeah.

David: Now it’s just making that as easy as possible. Feeding them information, because maybe they’re not necessarily dying for a story, but they’re dying for sources and making that easier, I think, is important.

Peter: And they have to do a lot more with a lot less. The better information you can give them, the faster you can give it to them, the better off you’ll help them, the better chance you have of getting quoted in a story.

David: So how do you stay current on what’s changing in PR and internet marketing?

Peter: I talk to people. I listen to everything. I read the latest blogs. I love podcasts. I get all my podcasts in when I’m biking in the morning, when I’m running in the morning, getting my workouts in, I listen to all my podcasts and listen to what people are talking about. There are some talented bloggers out there that I listen to as well. It really comes down to how you like to get your information, and whatever the best way to get your information is, that’s what you’re going to wind up using over and over. Again, that comes down to really knowing your audience, knowing how your audience likes to get their information. I choose podcasts just because it works for me. Someone else might like blogs or webcasts or video pods or even radio or TV.

David: What would be some of the podcasts that you like to listen to?

Peter: I’m a big believer in the main ones, like the New York Times, NPR, Front Page New York Times. I could download thousands of NPR podcasts and BBC podcasts. Literally, I could download hundreds of BBC podcasts every day and never grow tired of them. What else do I listen to? I’m a geek, so I listen to some triathlon podcasts just because that’s the kind of stuff that excites me. There’s a great skydiving podcast called Skydive Radio. ZDNet has some good ones. What else do I listen to? I’ll load up iTunes, and I will tell you what else I have.

David: You’re a big skydiver, right?

Peter: Yeah, I’m a skydiver. There’s some running podcasts I listen to. There’s some good stuff out there if you know where to look.

David: Your twitter handle used to be @skydiver, correct? You switched it over to Peter Shankman. Is there a reason why you did that?

Peter: There are a lot of skydivers out there, but there’s only one Peter Shankman. When I switched over, the next day Twitter immediately verified my account. It’s really just about continuing to grow your brand and making sure your brand is … my brand is about me. My name is Peter Shankman, not Skydiver. At some point, you have to realize Skydiver’s fun, but you really have to go with what your name is. If you look at the people out there who are really working on their brand as well as they are, they’re not using cute names. It was fun for a while, but the fact of the matter is my name is not Skydiver.

David: You’re saying you’re the only Peter Shankman out there?

Peter: No. I’m sure there are others, but I’m the only one with this brand and with this awareness out there. Twitter, like I said, they verified my account immediately. There’s another Peter Shankman out there, and his Twitter name is PShankman and I wonder how many followers of his actually think they’re following me because this guy tweets every 15 minutes, but it’s always Apple news and computer hardcore geek stuff. I just like I really hope people don’t think that’s me.

David: Yeah. I get some random tweets like @davidwells for the baseball player, and it’s like, “I’m not him, but okay.”

Peter: Not making that kind of money.

David: Yeah. Not yet. Let me see here. Where can people find you online?

Peter: Like I said, Twitter is @petershankman. Facebook is And, of course, the best place is my blog, which is just I bought that domain back in ‘96. It’s

David: Okay, cool. Thanks for coming on the show. I appreciate your time, and we hope to get you back some day.

Peter: Anytime man. Thanks for having me.