HARO Founder Peter Shankman Still Crazy After All These Years

Connecting with Bill Sobel

You have to wonder what it feels like to be described as the guy who "redefined the art of networking" … " "a public relations all-star who knows everything about new media and then some" … or, better yet, "crazy but effective."

But Peter Shankman has earned all those descriptions and more — a not so surprising feat, given the way he describes himself. How's that? Try "a spectacular example of what happens when you merge the power of pure creativity with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) along with a dose of adventure, and make it work to your advantage."

An author, entrepreneur and public speaker, Shankman has been recognized for his thoughts on marketing, customer service, advertising, public relations and social media.

Reporters Need All the Help They Can Get


He's the co-founder of Shankman | Honig, a global consultancy designed to help companies increase revenues and decrease marketing costs through better customer service.

But he is probably best known for founding Help A Reporter Out (HARO), an email service that enables reporters to get comments and expertise from subject matter experts quickly and easily. In essence, it puts social media and crowdsourcing into the hands of reporters who need experts as sources for stories.

HARO started as a Facebook group and grew to a three-times-a-day email used by both online and traditional journalists seeking sources for stories ranging from parenting issues to tech advice. In 2010, Vocus acquired the then three-year-old company.

Today it is the largest free source repository in the world, sending out over 1,500 queries to more than 300,000 sources each week

As CMSWire noted a few years ago, "HARO shows how the PR cycle is changing, allowing reporters to be in control of how they source stories and allowing a new world of experts (bloggers, podcasters and others) to get quoted and referenced in the mainstream media."

This week, it’s Shankman's turn to be quoted.

Sobel: Following your graduation from Boston University in 1994, you joined a little company called AOL as one of the founding editors at AOL News. You helped create the first digital 24-hour newsroom, covering major events including the 1996 Presidential Conventions and the Olympic Park Bombing. Can you tell us a bit about the early days at AOL and your eventual leap to HARO in 2008?

Shankman: Back in the day at AOL, we made up the rules as we went along. This was great, since it taught us to constantly be on our feet, constantly be hustling and to always be willing to pivot on a dime. Incredibly handy for later in life, when I was launching startups. Also (former AOL CEO) Steve Case and (AOL senior executive) Ted Leonsis taught me that everything was always about the customer —always.

Sobel:  Vocus acquired HARO in 2010 with the aim of furthering both companies' missions of shifting control in the public relations cycle back to journalists. For years you had no interest in selling HARO. What changed your mind and can you talk a bit about that milestone? And can you share thoughts on your new company ShankMinds as well as “The Mistake Podcast” as well as your other projects?

Shankman: By mid-2010, I was at a crossroads with HARO. I could grow it, hire 20 people and become a manager, or I could sell it and leave the managing to a team who could do it. It was kind of a no-brainer for this ADHD serial-entrepreneur. I’m now doing several things. I’m an investor in several early-stage startups, I’m running ShankMinds Business Masterminds, which encourage people to think outside of their comfort zones and grow their businesses with day-long mastermind sessions around the world. I’m also a partner in Shankman | Honig, a customer service strategy firm that takes on huge projects with the goal of improving customer service around the world.

Sobel:  In June, your new book “Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over — and Collaboration Is In” was released to rave reviews. In the book you write, “The era of authoritarian cowboy CEOs like Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca is over. In an age of increasing transparency and access, it just doesn’t pay to be a jerk — to employees, customers, competitors or anyone else.”

You talk about effective leadership, including loyalty, optimism, humility and a reverence for customer service and show how leaders like Jet Blue’s Dave Needleman, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Steve Jobs of Apple, Ken Chenault of Amex, Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, get it. Can you talk a bit about the book and your philosophy?

Shankman: Simply put, being nice makes more money. The “eat your young” mentality of the 80s is dying, and taking old-school leaders with them. The new rule is all about being nice. Nice wins. Nice makes a lot of money. Being the douchebag CEO no longer serves a purpose, because the ability to make your mean-ness public and shift opinion away from your business has never been easier. Be nice, people will return. Be really nice, and people will return and bring their friends.

Sobel:  Speaking of books, in 2006 your book “Can We Do That? Outrageous PR Stunts That Work — And Why Your Company Needs Them” was a best seller. It's still one of my favorite books. In the book, you look at real-life PR stunts that will blow your mind and inspire you to develop innovative and creative ways to get your company noticed. But more importantly, that is what Peter Shankman was all about about. Are you still the “wild and crazy guy” you were eight years ago?

Shankman: I’m still a skydiver. I’m still a triathlete. I still make really bad jokes to the dismay of my wife. So, yes, I’m still the one with the creative and crazy ideas. But I think now I see them to a bigger purpose. A stunt for the sake of a stunt is pointless. A stunt that grows a business and generates revenue and builds brand is a win.

Sobel:  In a recent blog post you discussed the new Google Shopping Express. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

Shankman: The biggest company in the world reached out to me on a Saturday, helped me with my problem and made everything right, all within three hours. How is it that Google can do this, but a mobile phone company can’t? It’s not rocket science.

Sobel: Many of our readers are looking for ways to optimize new ways of doing business, breaking through barriers and hurdles, and boosting revenue. Any final thoughts for them?

Shankman: Other than bring me in to consult? :) Seriously, the conversation economy is a thing and it’s real. If you’re not giving your customers reasons to talk great about you, they’ll talk poorly about you. Be nice to the customers you have, and you’ll get the customers you want, every single time.