Done well, public relations is a lot of hard work around relationship building with media contacts, so that when a client has a need, you can reach out to the appropriate contacts and get worthwhile stories placed.
Following, researching and engaging with media
As such, the basic, free social networks are mandatory – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. Any PR professional worth their salt will have personal and/or agency profiles set up and active on major social networks at a minimum.
To make the most of those networks, we strongly recommend basic publishing tools like Hootsuite or Buffer. The basic editions are free of cost (though you will receive frequent upsell opportunities, and you may not be able to access every feature).
It also goes without saying that Google, the search engine, is a mandatory free PR tool. To get the most out of it, look into taking a free course on learning how to search more intelligently with Google.
Monitoring the news
Staying in tune with the news is also essential, and that means having a decent blog reader. Depending on your reading style, you may prefer a magazine format, in which case Flipboard is your go-to free reader. If you prefer a Google Reader-style format of a river of news, Feedly is your preferred reader. Both are free (with paid upgrade options). Combine a blog reader with a coverage monitoring service like Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts (both free) to make sure you’re staying on top of client news.
Tracking PR activities and results
If you’re on the go a lot, or you don’t want to shell out a few hundred bucks for office suite software, you can’t go wrong with Google Docs. It’s web-based collaborative office software that’s “good enough” for most routine tasks. If you absolutely must have desktop applications for free, Open Office is a good alternative to the Microsoft suite. For email specifically, there are few email tools as good as Mozilla Thunderbird; of course, if you work at a PR firm, you’ll probably use the standard Microsoft email client, Outlook.
Improving your writing
Finally, the cornerstone skill of great PR is being able to write well. If you struggle with writing well, take a free online course in iTunes University for free. Once you’ve gotten the learning done, use free tools like SlickWrite to help proofread your writing on the fly and make it stronger.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and there are certain paid tools that PR professionals and agencies view as necessary, such as access to a newswire service or a research service like Cision, but neither is free, nor are there any realistic free alternatives that are worthwhile. They’re a cost of doing business, an investment that is almost mandatory to be effective as a PR professional. You can do PR without them, but you will be less efficient and effective.