I’ve been a reader of HARO for a number of years now. I wasn’t an early adopter, but as soon as I knew about it, I subscribed. It seemed like a pretty egalitarian thing: journalists posted a query and a bunch of PR people evaluated whether it fit a client and if so, submitted a pitch.

I have monitored HARO on behalf of my clients four times a day and have passed along scores of leads over the years.

HARO founder Peter Shankman’s approach to sponsorships was both brilliant and entertaining. Rather than just sell a banner ad, he actually would write up a paragraph about the product or service in a readable, often funny, always energetic style that was many times more effective than any static online ad could ever be.

But I just unsubscribed from HARO, thereby freeing up some inbox real estate and saving some otherwise wasted time out of my days. Why do I say “wasted?” because something I had suspected for a while was confirmed for me last week.

I suspected it was going to happen when Shankman sold out to Vocus, the PR and media-management software package. Slowly Shankman eased out of the way, ceding his ad-writing duties to interns and the quality of the queries steadily diminished. HARO is not what it was and it will never be that again.

Last week I was contacted out of the blue by a guy on LinkedIn who asked me if I was familiar with Vocus, PRWeb and HARO. I wrote him back to share my not-very-positive thoughts on Vocus, developed over the course of dealing with its sales staff over the years; I explained we don’t use wire distribution services and I mentioned that I thought the quality of HARO queries had dropped precipitously, to which he replied:

“Also in regards to HARO, the free content has changed…the best opportunities are reserved for our clients. Just got one of my clients to Good Morning America and 2 [sic] other national TV appearances.”

Gee, I never remember seeing a national TV query on HARO. Now I know why. I naively didn’t realize that you could pay for the better queries, but should you pay $19, $49 or $149 per month? I guess Vocus has a sliding scale of value for queries, and whatever is left over when the payers get done pawing it slide down into the “free” trough.

I wonder if any of the 30,000 media who supposedly post queries know that their query is not being seen by the purported 100,000 PR types who subscribe to HARO, but is instead being “sold” to whoever pays more. Or worse, maybe none of the paying clients are interested in their pitch, so it goes into the trough for the unpaying lot to scramble for.

So count me out, HARO. I won’t waste any more time reading your loser queries, and I guess I’ll just stick to doing media relations the old-fashioned way — working for it, not paying for it.

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