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No money? No problem—three free media relations tools for nonprofits (and others)

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Note: The following reviews are my own opinions. I have not been asked to endorse any of these resources.

It’s a stereotype that nonprofits have no money. But any nonprofit professional can attest to being given a project with no budget at some point in their career. If you’re in communications, you’re luckier than most, because there are many high-quality, no-cost tools to help you do your job, thanks to that behemoth fairy godmother, the Internet. So if your boss just tasked you with drumming up media coverage and you happen not to have a PR budget—or a list of media contacts—try one or all of these to get your feet wet.

1. Help A Reporter Out   HARO is the brainchild of Peter Shankman, possibly the busiest man in social media, and well worth following on Twitter (@helpareporter). He clearly knows and cares about journalists and the people who make it run, and that shows in HARO, which he calls a “family”—with good reason.

How it works: Journalists email Peter the stories they need sources for (called “queries”). Peter sends queries (about 30 at a time) to a mailing list of Joe Schmoes like you and me, three times a day. If you see a story you or a colleague would be a perfect source for, you contact the journalist directly.

Pros: Gives you a basic feel for how journalists assemble stories. Lets you see who’s writing about stories related to your mission or community. Is often funny, thanks to Peter’s daily commentary. Includes many national outlets as well as local ones, blogs, and niche websites. Email-based; good for people who aren’t that comfortable with social media.

Cons: If you’re in a narrow niche, like Clumber Spaniel rescue, you may not see many stories relevant to your mission. Even if you respond to a query, the journalist may not reply to you (HARO often generates more responses than journalists can use). Not usually good for urgent publicity needs, since you can only respond to what journalists ask for. If you respond to a query and the journalist feels that you’re way off-topic, you can get banned from HARO. (This is targeted toward spammers and scammers, and if your intentions are good and you’re at least half-smart, you’re not in danger of this.)

How to get it: Go to and enter your contact info. If you’re on Twitter, follow @helpareporter for urgent queries.

2. PitchEngine  PitchEngine is perfect for any communications staffer who has gotten an email ad from PRNewsWire, looked at the price of annual subscription, and gone all woozy in the head. It’s a great service that some of us can’t afford right now. PitchEngine is a decent alternative, especially if you’re social-media-savvy and a lot of your website traffic comes from online search engines.

How it works: You sign up for an account, then copy and paste press releases (PitchEngine calls them “social media releases”) into the text boxes it gives you. Once you send them, they’re live and findable with online search engines. So if you releases one about Clumber Spaniel rescue, and a journalist happens to Google “Clumber Spaniel rescue,” it’ll come up as a recent result.

Pros: Great for urgent publicity needs, since you can issue press releases as needed. Allows embedding of images, videos, PowerPoints, etc. Can be integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to share releases with your supporters.

Cons: Signing up requires more information than you’d expect, including your organization’s mission and web URL. The interface for setting up releases can be confusing, such as the “button” for sending your release (you slide the button to one side instead of clicking it).

How to get it: Go to and click “Sign Up Free!” in the upper right corner. Try browsing the site and checking out existing releases on the site to get a feel for it.

3. Google Alerts  Many nonprofits still use clipping services to get copies of the media coverage they generate, and I admit, these services are far more comprehensive than you can do yourself. But there’s nothing shabby about Google Alerts, which you can set up to tell you when something is posted online about you, your boss, your organization, your cause—anything you want to know.

How it works: You choose a name, phrase, or other term to get notified about—for example, “clumber spaniel rescue” or “Joe Schmoe.” When that term comes up in web content, you get an email from Google with a link to that content. Most of it is new, but occasionally you’ll get something the search engine just re-found from a long time ago.

Pros: Gives you a feel for who’s talking about your organization, whether in blogs, news, or social networks so you can respond to concerns or acknowledge kudos. Email-based; good for those who aren’t that comfortable with social media. Fast, easy signup. Can use any email account to sign up. Alerts can be modified at any time. Can be scheduled for different types of content (web, blogs, news, etc.) and different, frequencies, depending on how often you want to get them.

Cons: Alerts don’t capture everything; not as comprehensive as LexisNexis or other fee-based services. May return irrelevant results if the terms you use are too common.

How to get it: Go to and fill out the short form.

Did I miss other free PR resources you think are the best thing since mini muffins? Enlighten me in the comments section.

Written by eclawson

September 21, 2009 at 9:30 AM