Back-to-(PR)-School – Media List 101


My last semester of college I remember being particularly bogged down – writing papers, studying for finals, working an internship, and trying to find an apartment – your typical early-20s to-dos. A friend wisely told me I needed to “come up for air” – I was getting so mired in all the things I had to get done that I was missing out on our last few weeks together in school before “real life” hit. Ferris Bueller expresses this same sentiment, albeit in a more iconic fashion: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The same could be said for our work as PR professionals. PR moves pretty fast, and if we don’t stop every once in a while, whether it’s to proofread a release or update a media list, we could make a mistake that could affect a client or a relationship with a reporter. To prevent this from happening, we need to remember to come up for air and get back in touch with the fundamentals of PR. This is especially important when it comes to media outreach – the nature of our business. In honor of back to school pitching everywhere, here are a few things to remember when building a media list.

Quality Over Quantity
Don’t worry yourself about building a gigantic list from the start. Take some time to build a short list of well-researched leads for your story or pitch. Be sure to research past articles, and include phone numbers for easy follow up. Think about relationships you’ve built in the past with reporters for similar clients or news – are there any that may be a fit for this effort? Try pitching this short list before you pull 1,000 randoms from a database. That said…

Databases Should Not Be the Only Option
Services like Cision help PR professionals immensely, but we need to remember we have other, and likely better, resources at our disposal. Gone are the days of Bacon’s Media Directories – everything has moved online, but your industry knowledge makes you smarter than the machine. In fact, often the machine doesn’t have the latest and greatest info. I can’t count how many times a name comes up and that person isn’t at the publication anymore, or covers a different beat, or their phone number has changed. Use databases as a way to discover reporters, and then do your own research. We forget that we can easily search Google News over a custom date range (you should be using this for coverage scans, too!). See which outlets and reporters have frequently covered a topic/keyword in the past year, and research them for your list.

Add a Notes Column
Whether you’re refreshing an older list or beginning a new one, add a column for notes in your list. Include relevant links, like previous stories or past coverage on your client from the outlet or reporter. If you’re sharing a media list with a larger team, it’s also a great way for you and others to add in any contact they’ve made with a reporter in the past, making the follow up process as professional as possible.

So you’ve got a few contacts on your list, but don’t think you’ve really captured the right person at an outlet. Think back to another editor you may have worked with at that publication (and have a good relationship with), and ask for insight on who would be most appropriate for your news. Be sure to research what your contact is currently writing about and keep in mind any breaking news or deadlines when asking them for a referral.

What are your tips for building a media list?