Our 5 Fave #FreeTools for Building Relationships with the Media

When Maggie and I started working in PR, we didn’t have all that many options for building relationships with journalists. We used a combination of emails, phone calls and even fax to send in story ideas, and we attended events in the hopes of informally connecting with journalists covering our clients’ industries.

In just the last five or six years, it’s gotten so much easier to connect with journalists. New tools are constantly being developed, and free options supplementing, and in some cases replacing, the expensive databases that publicists have traditionally relied on.

This doesn’t only benefit those of us in the business — you can take advantage of these new tools, too!

No where is it written that only PR pros and publicists can connect with reporters. They love hearing directly from potential sources, who can tip them off to cool new products, budding trends and provide last-minute quotes when they’re rushing to meet a deadline.

Here’s a round-up of our favorite free tools to make sure that source is you!

1. Google Alerts

Your first step in connecting with journalists is figuring out who’s driving the conversations you want to be having. When you’re starting out, this can feel daunting, so we like to recommend a simple hack using Google Alerts.

All you do is set up Google Alerts to send you weekly digests of articles around keywords relevant to your business.

So, if you’re launching a new line of textiles like my friend Megan Auman, you might come up with keywords like “spring accessories” or “patterned leggings.” If you’re a coach like Kate Swoboda, you might add the names of top coaches like Martha Beck to your keyword list. You might want to play around with the results or consider limiting your results to “News” or “Blogs” so it’s not overwhelming.

Once a week, scan the headlines, and if there’s an article that makes you think, “I should’ve been in that piece!” note the media outlet and name on the byline (if there is one).

Voila! You’ve started a media list.

2. Feedly

Speaking of RSS readers, I’m obsessed with Feedly. I keep a media folder to organize the  outlets I’m researching for clients (and for our own firm!), because it’s so quick and easy to stay in the know. Once a week. I scroll through the headlines and see if there’s anything I should read or watch.

From here, I might choose to share an article, leave a comment or add a new journalist to a media list.

3. Muckrack.com

When you’re ready to start engaging with media contacts, Muckrack is your first stop. The site operates a free directory that connects you with journalists on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Quora, Google+ and LinkedIn. Their database of media outlets is just as diverse as the social media I just listed, too. Want to connect with the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition — here she is. Or maybe Fast Company’s more your flavor? Here ya go.

You have to sign up for an account, but it’s free to use the social media directory — and infinitely more useful than many of the paid resources we’ve had the displeasure of using.

4. Hootsuite

When  cultivating a new contact, the most important thing is to consistently provide value to the person you’d like to get to know better . . . tweet it!

If you want to add value to a journalist, this can be as simple as Tweeting her articles or watching her stream to catch a call out for a source. 

Hootsuite simplifies the process of monitoring and connecting. Simply add journalists to a list, and add the list to your dashboard. Make it a habit to send a Tweet or share an update from at least one journalist on your list, and you’re well on your way to making a new contact.

5. HARO

We weren’t lying when we said media want to share your stories just as much as you want to get them out into the public eye. HARO is proof. Sign up for the free subscription, and you get three emails a day with inquiries from reporters who are looking for sources to share their top tips and case studies.

You’ll find all kinds on HARO — from bloggers to national magazine writers. You won’t find a perfect fit in every email — or sometimes for weeks — but if you’re patient the subscription pays off.

You may find yourself with a mention in The Chicago Tribune (Maggie landed this story for Aspire and Deloitte through HARO) or in CNN.com like Pat Romain did after she took Your Media Map, which is the predecessor of our mentoring program.

Before we go, we want to bring up one final free tool — your email account!

There is nothing a journalist loves more than getting a love note from a fan.

Whether you simply want to say, “I loved your article,” or “I think you’d love to look at this link,” it can be incredibly effective to reach out to a journalist with a simple note months before you submit your own story idea.