Using Google Alerts, HARO and other free tools to bolster your PR efforts

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By Linda Forrest

Earlier this week, Alexandra wrote a post about some of the free tools she uses to monitor social media activity for our clients. Today, I’m sharing how free tools like Google Alerts and HARO can be used to bolster your PR effort. While these tools don’t provide you with the full spectrum of capabilities essential to a successful PR program, for a bootstrapped startup it’s reassuring to know that there are free resources available. What follows is a small sampling of tools and the capability they provide.

Tool: Google Alerts

Capability: Media monitoring

What is media monitoring? In order to develop and implement an effective PR program, it’s essential that you have a well rounded and accurate view of the market you’re selling into. That means keeping tabs on key issues in your marketplace, what your competitors are up to and making sure that you’re aware of and responsive to any media coverage about your company.

What tools do PR professionals use to monitor the media? There is no effective catchall media monitoring solution that I’ve come across in my dozen-plus years in this industry. It takes a range of tools — some that are quite costly, others which are free — to catch everything; even with a number of tools in place, some things will slip past your radar. Believe it or not, there are still a decent number of print-only publications which do not publish their content online. The monitoring, capture and distribution of this type of coverage is a costly, time-consuming and resource-intensive affair. But for a cash-strapped startup, doing a partial job of media monitoring is better than doing nothing.

How can companies use Google Alerts to monitor the media? Setting up and using Google Alerts is very easy. All that’s needed is a Google account, also free and easy to setup, and the ability to complete the following form, which gives you the opportunity to customize the terms searched for, the types of results, the frequency of the alerts and more.

With luck, your email inbox will soon be filled with messages like the following:

Tips: You may find that you’ve initially cast too wide a net, or set your parameters too narrow to capture information that’s of true value. With a few adjustments and an intuitive approach, you’ll be able to glean crucial information about your marketplace, its key issues and the market’s perception of your company.

Tool: HARO

Capability: Resource discovery for journalists/pitching opportunities for resources

What is HARO? In the words of its description on the registration site:

Every day, HARO brings nearly 30,000 reporters and bloggers, over 100,000 news sources and thousands of small businesses together to tell their stories, promote their brands and sell their products and services.

Since its inception, Two Cats and a Cup of Coffee under its mark HARO has published more than 75,000 journalist queries, has facilitated nearly 7,500,000 media pitches, and has marketed and promoted close to 1,500 brands to the media, small businesses and consumers.

How does it work? This service is mutually beneficial for journalists and PR professionals. Three times a day, subscribers receive an email filled with queries from journalists. These queries are grouped into logical subject areas; given the shear volume of queries, this makes it a lot easier to review only what’s relevant to your organization. Here’s a sample of one sector’s queries from a recent newsletter:

The queries themselves contain all of the information needed to respond with your pitch:

Because this is a wildly popular service, you can expect your pitch to join literally hundreds of others in vying for the coverage. Make it good, short and sweet, being sure to include the required information requested in the query and also your relevant contact details. Be mindful of the deadline posted in the query as well; in my experience, the early bird tends to get the HARO worm.

What other free tools are available to support your PR program? Lots. From FlackList to SourceBottle, Reporter Connection to MediaSpot.Me, there are a wide variety of tools out there that can help you get the coverage you want for no money down. Some of them prove the adage “you get what you pay for” while others provide real tangible value. Examine your options, try some out and determine what works best for you.

Image: Freelance Crunch


  • Coleman Foley

    February 24, 2012 2:23 pm

    A good, free alternative to Google Alerts is Trapit. Like Google Alerts, Trapit allows you to monitor topics. Unlike Google Alerts, it learns what you like as you give it feedback on its results.

    Trapit does not get as much content as Google Alerts, though, because it only searches sources that its human editors have vetted. Of course, that is part of the reason the results are so free of junk. They have about 100,000 sources right now, though, so they do search a decent-sized chunk of the web.

    So for a startup with very little time, Trapit can be better than Google Alerts because it is better at keeping you up to date on all the most important coverage of a given topic. If a startup has more resources, it might need to look at tools that pull in more content.

  • Francis Moran

    February 24, 2012 6:29 pm

    Hi, Coleman.

    Thanks for your couple of comments letting our readers know about Trapit. I like the idea of human intervention; it’s one of the reasons we still use some of the more expensive tools to which both Linda and Alex referred in their posts. I’ll have to give Trapit a good test drive.

  • Stavros Rougas

    February 25, 2012 2:56 pm

    Advice on Google alerts is bang on. I have one set up for “”, which I co-founded, and that is how I found this blog post.

    I was until recently a full time journalist. HARO is fine but it does take a certain amount of time for both journalists and those wanting to get media attention. Time people often don’t have. Good point about needing to be quick to respond to HARO emails or not to bother, but three emails a day is a lot so one must always make a time – benefit calculation.

    Journalists are constantly looking for people to interview but often don’t know in advance on what topic so it’s a scramble, a mad one at times.

    We built (it’s free) to deal with something that frustrated be at work, the inability to find people in a timely manner who want to be found by journalists. We let journalists fish out what they need, when they need it, while those who create profiles sit back and don’t have to spend time hunting for attention. It’s another way to support quality journalism and allow people to be in the line of media attention without ongoing time commitments and cost.

  • Linda Forrest

    February 27, 2012 1:14 pm

    Thanks to both Coleman and Stavros for taking the time to comment and adding your voices to the conversation. You’ve both raised great points and hopefully our readers will find value in using Trapit and MediaSpot.Me.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    March 06, 2012 10:06 am

    These tools are great, but you always need to weigh time vs. return. Like you mentioned, there are often many people contacting HARO for coverage. If you find that your proposals are being ignored, don’t spend hours working on them. Only pick out the ones that are most relevant.

  • Blog Posts to Read for March 29, 2012

    March 29, 2012 6:39 am

    [...] Using Google Alerts, HARO and other free tools to bolster your PR efforts This post includes a small sampling of free PR tools and the capability they provide. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE [...]

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