Save Your Pennies: 3 PR Tools That Aren’t Worth The Investment

When I left my agency career to pursue entrepreneurship, I was suddenly in the position of the bootstrapping organizations I wanted to serve. I no longer had access to the agency resources I’d come to rely on.

Every tool I thought I needed to run my business — from my computer to the accounting software I chose to the tools of my trade — risked the chopping block. And the biggest cuts came from the expensive tools I’d learned to love to use in my agency days.

Over the years, I’ve found free substitutes or even simple hacks that have proven even more effective that the tools I once missed. When you RSVP for my Creative Live workshop Simple PR for Creatives, you can download a PDF of my favorite free resources for building relationships with the press, keeping up with industry news, and tracking the outcomes of our PR programs.

But today I want to talk to you about those other resources — the expensive kind.

3 PR Tools Your Bootstrapping Business Can Do Without

A very quick caveat here: This list is intended specifically for micro businesses, coaches, consultants, artists, makers and designers. In other words, if PR isn’t your full-time business, and the thought of having an entire PR department is laughable, this post is for you.

Actually…the third item on this list is for all businesses, no matter what your scale and budget is.

1. Press release distribution services. Also known as wire services, press release distribution services promise to get your news in front of their network of journalists. The idea is that you can pay a small fee to get your press release in front of 10’s of thousands of media contacts, not to mention on websites that pull content directly from the service’s feed.

What’s the problem with this model? While it’s true that your press release will probably get picked up by a handful of websites, it’s very unlikely that your target audience (e.g. your customer) is reading them. The sites that pull these feeds directly are often junk websites.

Reputable media companies do use some wire services (AP Newswire, Reuters), but you can’t buy your way in. The content they use is created by journalists who are employed or freelance directly with these services.

There is one area where you might consider using a release distribution service, and that’s for search engine optimization. Some businesses are willing to invest in getting backlinks on any website, but if you’re not aggressively pursuing a SEO plan, this probably won’t have much benefit for your business.

The verdict: Save your pennies, and skip the press release distribution services.

2. Subscription-based media databases. When I went out on my own, losing access to Cision, a subscription-based media database, was the biggest blow. If you’ve ever tried to track down a reporter’s email address, you know it can be difficult to get the information you need.

When I hired Maggie, so we could start working with more clients, we decided to invest in Cision. But I still don’t recommend it for your business.

The problem is that these databases can be very expensive ($1000/year for “budget” versions and more for premium offerings like Cision), and the contact information isn’t always up-to-date. And you still have to do research to make sure you have the right contact.

In other words, you could spend thousands of dollars and still not know how to find the right media contact to send your pitch. That’s why I recommend that you read and research the media you want to pitch, so you can note who is covering the types of stories you want to be included in.

The verdict: Unless you’re building many niche media lists, you’re better off building your list one ideal media contact at a time.

3. Elaborate media gift baskets. I’m just gonna put it out there — you should never, ever send unsolicited samples or gifts to journalists.

Most newsrooms and magazines have rules preventing reporters and editors and producers from even accepting gifts or samples. This means that your beautifully crafted gift or one-of-a-kind product is either going in the trash or home with an intern.

The verdict: You’re far better off sending a postcard or even a tweet to a media contact or blogger than putting product in the mail.

Simple PR for Creatives


To give you a jumpstart on your PR outreach, I put together a list of my favorite free PR resources. You can download it — for free — right here, but first you have to RSVP.

I hope you’ll spend the day with me, learning the ropes of PR and taking concrete steps to get your message or product in the media your customers know, like and trust.

Click here to RSVP, and download your copy of my Fave Free Media Resources.