What the Vocus Acquisition of HARO Means for PR Pros

Mashable is reporting that Vocus, a developer of software for the public relations industry, will acquire Help a Reporter Out (HARO), the wildly popular service that connects journalists with sources.

HARO, which started out as a Facebook group, quickly surged to be a fantastic resource for both PR professionals and journalists. The service caught on quickly because it is free for both journalists and PR types, whereas the leader in the space, Profnet, is subscription based.

The terms of acquisition are undisclosed, but the purpose of the deal, according to the Mashable report, is to "further both companies' missions of shifting control in the public relations cycle back to journalists."

According to the report, the service will remain free, and will continue to offer ad-supported daily newsletter that has a 50-60% open rate. Founder Peter Shankman said in the Mashable report that his new role will be continuing to grow and build the HARO service, saying, “I get to continue presenting my vision of social media and bring that to Vocus. It’s the best of all possible worlds.”

So, what does this mean for the PR industry? Well, here are three thoughts:

Profnet has long been the leader in this space, but the cost of entry could have been too much for some to embrace the service. For example, non-profits, who are boot-strapped as it is, can't afford to folk over a monthly expense that has no return in investment. Yes, if a query is pitched correctly and matched the journalists requests, it might end up as a great showcase clip. However, those are few and far between in my opinion (as someone who has been using Profnet for over 10 years). This move will force Profnet to look at the delivery model for sure.

Social Media Driving Cost Factors
With the popularity of HARO being built via social media, it has a great test case for those online services that are looking for high adoption and quickly. Ad-supported services can work if they deliver the content. HARO clearly does that and Vocus saw an opportunity to snatch a brand that is well know with PR types and journalists. This move wouldn't have happened if HARO was launched as a pay service from the outset. The social aspect of the service simply made it accessible to everyone -- agency types, client side execs, non-profits and the like.

Additional Market Opportunities
Companies that can help PR types build stronger relationships with journalists will capture market share in chunks. Look at how fast HARO was adopted and eventually acquired. The lessoned learned here was that despite the service being ad-supported (in a non-annoying manner), it cut to the chase and connected a wide scope of traditional and non-traditional journalists with content source experts.

If you look at the list of queries, you'll see a mix of national publications with mommy bloggers, community newspapers and so on. This could be chalked up to the service being initially free. However, it's more likely that it's popularity was fostered through the social web and the foundation for which the service was build on demanded that the interactions between PR types and journalists, remain social, i.e. pitch only relevance and don't waste the journalists time with bogus content.

As a result, more and more journalists seemed to be using the service because of the level of responses they received. And, speaking from a personal standpoint, PR types would be more than likely to submit answers to queries knowing that their pitches would, in fact, be reviewed and considered.

The point here is, through social interactions, both sides of the media fence saw extreme value in HARO. Those services or products that are designed and built on the premise that social can bring value as long as it's done with an honest baseline, can succeed.

As a result, companies in the B2B space that tailor to public relations firms will succeed as long as they follow that premise. How do you think this acquisition will play out and what impact do you think it'll have on the media business?

Article first published as What the Vocus Acquisition of HARO Means for the PR Business on Technorati.