How to Build a Media List That Works

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A solid media list is a PR professional’s most valuable asset. Without it, all you have are ideas and no one to share them with. But to build a media list that actually works takes time, research, and patience.

Whether you are a media professional, PR in training, or a bootstrapping business owner running your own affordable campaign, your media list is an essential foundation. Contacts and relationships have to be sourced, earned, and maintained, and by doing this, the value of a strong media list will soon become apparent.

We’ve outlined everything you need to know about media lists and how to build one that actually works.

What Is A Media List?

A media list is a document, Google Doc, or database of journalists, editors, bloggers, writers, and other contacts at publications who you want to be pitching to. They are the people who you want to take interest in your story, and are essentially the ones who can make you or your clients very happy. 

A media list is such a powerful PR tool because it allows you to have access to a comprehensive record of everyone relevant to your industry or target audience.

PR is all about relationships, and you want to build a media list that is made up of valuable contacts like: section editors, commissioning editors, freelancers with specialties, and avid bloggers. 

Getting your pitches to the right people is crucial. If you are an entrepreneur building a sustainable footwear brand, for example, sending your press release to the info@ emails means it will likely be missed. You want to be pitching the climate editor of a newspaper, the freelancer who only covers environmentally friendly businesses, the TV program coordinator of the climate change special reports. By showing your media contacts that you understand their beat and specialties, they will in turn respect the pitches you bring to them.

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Before you start to build your media list, you must be clear about who your target audience is. We wrote a whole blog post about how to find your target audience, underlining the importance of market research, analyzing your customer base, and knowing your target audience’s consumer habits inside out. This will help you determine exactly what kinds of people you want to see your product, service, or message in the media. In identifying your target audience, you should consider:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Salary bracket
  • Politics
  • Spending habits
  • Hobbies and interests

Once you have identified your target audience, you should educate yourself about the readership of different outlets. If your target audience is 16-24-year-olds who enjoy fashion, music, art, and are politically left leaning, your efforts will be wasted going after Fox News and The New York Post. If you know your target audience and understand their media consumption habits, you can build a media list that also includes niche publications and independent magazines.

A good media list will take all of this into account so it is made up of publications that can potentially bring you value or new business.

What Should You Include In A Media List?

A media list should not simply be a list of target outlets and publications. It should include names, emails, phone numbers, roles, specialties, locations, and media type. You can categorize it further by writing style, social media following, and recent articles. You might even choose to include a prompt for a conversation starter if you don’t want your introduction to be a cold pitch.

How To Find Contacts For Your Media List

The more you start to read relevant articles, the better your knowledge of who the key industry players will be. Whenever you read a news piece, feature, or interview that is related to your sector, service, or business in any way, search for an email address. Sometimes these will be listed on a website author page, or you may have to search Twitter and LinkedIn to find it. 

Oftentimes organizations will use the firstname.lastname@organization.com structure which is worth a shot if you can’t find it anywhere else. You can also find contacts by Googling relevant topics, clicking the news tab, and then checking which journalists have written about a certain subject recently.

How To Organize Your Media List

When you build a media list you can organize it by putting your outlets into various tiers. You might want to focus your outreach on bloggers and local publications before aiming for national TV spots and glossy magazines. This can also help to build a foundation for your press coverage to show top-tier outlets that niche communities are interested in you or your business. 

You can also place your warm or established contacts in their own section. Your list can be broken down further into categories, language, location, readership, age demographics, and more.

Identify Different Pitching Angles For Your Media List

When you have a story you want to get in the media, think broadly about the types of people this could appeal to. At first you might think your story would be interesting exclusively to tech publications. But as you start to think about how different people might receive or interpret the story, you might find there is a human rights angle, a science one, a health one. It’s crucial to know how to best present your story, and then you can build a media list based on who would be interested in that angle.

How To Keep Track Of A Media List

The best media lists are the ones being constantly updated and reorganized. This means knowing who might be susceptible to a pitch at the right time. News outlets may be on the lookout for a new angle related to a recent story, whereas a journalist that writes mostly features won’t be interested in a story almost identical to the one they have just written.

To keep on top of this, you should be a keen reader of your contacts’ work. Not only does this help you better understand their specialist subjects and areas of interest, but it allows you to judge your pitching based on what they have covered most recently. Moreover, everyone loves to hear what others think of their work, dropping a nice line to your contact to say you enjoyed their article will often be well received.

Should You Use A Media List Database?

Many PR agencies will use a database, like Cision, that contains thousands of media contacts and allows you to build a media list, or several lists, based on various factors. These can be powerful tools in getting your pitch or press releases out to hundreds of contacts, particularly when it comes to location-based pitches.

However, they are not completely extensive and do not contain every media contact. It’s also easy to overlook the importance of building your relationships when using software. Creating lists on databases has many benefits, but does have its limitations. Most PR strategies will use a combination of both methods.

Monitor Your Industry or Sector

In PR it’s essential that you stay up to date with everything happening in your industry. Firstly, this means being in the know about recent news, studies, or research that may be linked with your product or business. This type of information can also influence the news agenda which is crucial for PRs to know how and when to pitch. Setting up Google alerts for keywords or phrases is an easy way to make sure you don’t miss any important news or updates.

Knowing your sector also means keeping up to date with the journalism industry. Organizational structures can change and new people will get assigned to section editors roles, or may just move publications. You can use private Twitter lists to keep up to date with journalists across different industries and any new job updates. Keep an eye out for the “personal news” klaxon and you’re unlikely to miss any new job announcements.

Don’t Forget About Influencers

PR has evolved drastically over the last decade where pitching and outreach are also aimed at social media influencers. Working with influencers often means branded content or sponsorship opportunities, but there are occasionally organic opportunities available too, such as inviting them to a press event which earns publicity on their social channels. 

You should definitely consider building a media list of influencers who have followings in your area of expertise or interest. “Micro-influencers” are a particularly effective way to find engagement within a certain niche.

How To Use Your Media List

Once you have built a solid media list you can begin your outreach. Press releases and pitches will generally be well received by journalists as long as they are relevant and they aren’t being spammed. You can read our blog post about how to write a perfect media pitch (with examples), here. A journalist may not choose to cover something right away, but it’s important to put the story on their radar. They may choose to come back to it at a later date.

To make the most of your amazing media list of journalists, you want to go for quality over quantity. If you get in touch every few weeks or once a month with a great story or angle, they will likely take notice of your pitches in the future. Generally the best practice is to pitch and then follow up one week later. If you pitch the same idea multiple times a week, it won’t be long before you’re being marked as spam or asked by the contact to be removed from the list. 

Keep Your Contacts Warm

A media list full of cold contacts is going to require a lot of TLC before it starts reaping results. Journalists can spot PRs who are using a database rather than sending a personalized email that shows an understanding of their publication. It’s also worth remembering that journalists want industry relationships too, whether that be PRs, researchers, or business spokespeople. Sometimes introducing yourself on a phone call or meeting for a coffee can be a great way to start a long-term working relationship. A PR-journalist relationship goes two ways, and the best ones are where you can both help each other out. 

Find out how Otter PR can help curate a media list and work on your PR strategy by booking a free consultation today.

Hollie Geraghty

Hollie Geraghty

Hollie Geraghty is a versatile media professional with four years’ experience across journalism, content writing, social media and public relations. Specializing in entertainment, culture and the arts, she has written for national and regional publications in both print and online. In her spare time, she can be found ticking films off her watch list, and planning new travel destinations.
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