Shankman founded HARO in March of 2008. HARO is a community site that links journalists with the expert sources they need for their stories. There are 30,000 journalists who have used HARO, sending out more than 3,000 queries per month to over 80,000 members.
While the service is free for subscribers and journalists, HARO makes money from ads placed in the daily emails it sends out to subscribers. In the past 12 months, the email ads have generated approximately a million dollars in revenue. Managing editor Daria Meoli spoke with New York City–based Shankman about how small businesses can get press, and the misconceptions about social media.
Daria Meoli: You founded the PR firm Geek Factory in 1998, and sold it in 2001. Why did you sell so soon after you started the company?
Peter Shankman: I built Geek Factory from scratch for fun, and grew it to about 20 employees. I sold it in late 2001 to a larger agency that wanted the clients and the staff. So, I walked away and took a year off to do nothing. I went to Asia, but that lasted three weeks. I got bored and I came home. I was on a beach in Thailand saying, “This is beautiful, this is stunningly gorgeous, I'm bored.”
DM: What did you do when you came home?
PS: I started doing PR consulting all over the world for different companies; everything from film companies to investment firms. I found that while I was traveling to meet with different clients, I’d always end up sitting on the plane next to annoying people, or people who hadn't showered, and anyone interesting was always sitting about four rows behind me. It occurred to me that if we had some control over who we sat next to on the plane, it would become a lot more fun.
So, I founded AirTroductions, which lets people choose their seatmates. It was a very simple concept, and I did it for about a year. I had about 10,000 members on the site, and then Lisa Loeb used it to find a date on her reality TV show. So, I went to bed one night and we had 10,000 members on the site. I woke up and we had about 50,000 members, all looking to find dates on planes.
DM: You jumped on the social-media bandwagon before it had wheels. What initially intrigued you about the space?
PS: Social media does not really exist. What does exist is the ability to stir up a much larger audience in a much shorter amount of time. What we call social media now is no different than what we used to do in chat rooms. Consumers are out there who want to talk to you about your products or services. They want to comment on them, too, and social media just made it easier for us to do that. It's not this big, massive, life-altering thing. It simply gives us a way to comment on things much more easily.
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at email@example.com