6 steps to the perfect media list for your public relations plan.

Posted December 10, 2015 in by

We’ve got a problem. PR professionals outnumber journalists 4:1, and newsroom employment declined by 10.4 percent in 2014. That’s a shrinking, churning pool of contacts to keep track of and build relationships with.

Which means you have got to be at the top of your game to secure media coverage for your company and stand out from the noise. I once read that a Texas journalist on the aviation beat said he receives more than a hundred email pitches a day. That’s not uncommon – it usually ranges from about 25 to well over a hundred, whatever the beat.

Whether your team is just starting out with a proactive public relations plan or your existing pitches and media outreach efforts are falling flat, your media lists are key. They are the core of a successful media relations strategy. Here are six steps that will help you build the perfect media list – one of the most valuable tools in your PR arsenal:

1. Start with a media database.

PR software with a solid contact database at its core will save your public relations team time and give them the tools they need to conduct effective media outreach. Databases will also bundle services, so you may be able to get a contact database plus media monitoring and other services at a discount. Do your research and compare software options and always take advantage of free demos and training. Use the advanced search options to pull a starter list, whether by beat (i.e., education reporters at daily newspapers) or by location (i.e., all local media in the Chicago DMA).

2. Refine by role.

Chances are, you now have a list of a couple hundred or even a couple thousand contacts. Sounds great, but send a press release or pitch to this entire list, and you’ll likely annoy a lot of people. To refine your list by role, I find a few rules of thumb helpful:

  • Find the news director at radio stations
  • Find the producers, guest bookers and assignment producers at TV stations
  • Anchors aren’t usually good PR contacts until you’ve already made a name for yourself with the producers
  • “Executive” anyone is rarely involved in assigning stories; stick to “senior,” “associate” and “assistant” and have better luck
  • Only target a publisher or an editor-in-chief if it’s a small, local newspaper; otherwise, they’re running the business, not the newsroom

3. Google and Google some more.

No matter which media database you choose, you will still need to supplement with your own research. Luckily, a lot of newspapers and broadcast outlets have either newsroom staff directories or at least online profiles, some with contact information right on the page. Use Google to identify free online resources. For example, use Technorati to search relevant blogs and Buzzsumo to turn up influencers by topic, and niche resources like The OpEd Project can be used to pitch opinion pieces to papers across the country.

4. Use social profiles to dig deep.

LinkedIn is an excellent resource, and I find it can be more up to date than a database. You’ll find many editors and reporters have up-to-date profiles with information about what they write on. It’s also a key platform for freelance journalists – they use it as a résumé for marketing their writing services, so they are usually up to date with the topics they cover and which publications they write for. Twitter is also great for quick media research. I find journalists are pretty clear in their Twitter bios about what they cover, and you can look at their feeds for very timely insights into what they’re writing about and their personalities, which can help you determine what tone or pitch might resonate.

5. Take a page from SEO.

If you’re like many PR pros, a valuable online placement for your company can be much more impactful than the coveted print clip of years past thanks to target audiences who live online. But while it’s easier than ever to get space on the Web, it still needs to be the right space. That means you need to rely on smart SEO principles to inform your digital outreach efforts and rank your outlets according to relevancy. I recommend installing MozBar, a toolbar for Chrome or Firefox that can give you an instant look at the domain authority (DA) of a site. Moz’s DA is a great benchmark that evaluates the strength of a website by looking at link metrics and other trust measures. Don’t discard sites with a low DA, though, especially in the case of trade publications. They may have a lower DA, but if it’s what your target audience is reading, keep it on the list!

6. Update always.

Watch for notices of hires and fires and subscribe to resources like Mediabistro’s Revolving Door newsletter. In addition, use bounceback emails to your advantage. Surprisingly, they contain a lot of valuable information – who’s on vacation, who’s left the outlet and, perhaps, who is replacing whom. Do not delete them until you mine them for information and update your media list accordingly. And if a story ends up not being a fit for a specific journalist, ask them if any of their colleagues cover the topic and might be interested.

Are you confident that you have a comprehensive, targeted, up-to-date list? Great! You’re not done. Media lists are living catalogues. If you are using reputable PR software, they will do some of the research and database updates for you, but they’re far from perfect, despite the title of this post. Your list should be looked at frequently and updated each time you pitch a story for your company. It’s a lot of work, but taking the time to research upfront will help you target the right people and get media coverage.

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