Richard Etchison August 30, 2018 | 02:47:37

Building Media Lists That Get Results

It’s easy to relegate media list development to the remedial PR file —  things that are too basic to analyze or improve. But for PR and media relations people, a good media database is critical. Even the most stellar pitch is useless if the wrong people are targeted; a carefully selected list of fewer reporters will yield better results than a spray-and-pray approach. What’s more, the universe of journalists is always changing, so the humble media list is something that requires not only external database tools, but constant updating, re-creation, and reinvention.

PR tips for killer media lists

Consider all angles

The desired audiences for a story depend on the corporate communications goals involved, whether general visibility, opinion leadership, or product support. If your company has secured $10 million in Series B funding, it seems like a straightforward business/entrepreneurship pitch, but there may be additional sectors that maximize receptivity to the story. These may include industry beat reporters, local media outlets, women’s interest or multicultural media (in the case of a female or minority founder), or even lifestyle press. The target audiences will dictate which media to include, but be creative when thinking through the story possibilities.

Themes, angles, and beats

Once you’ve determined the story theme and the audience, you’ll need to consider all the possible angles from which you can present the story to the media. While this may seem easy and obvious, it takes a certain talent for “creative analysis” to avoid missing pitch opportunities. If your company that just secured the $10m is about to unveil a new mobile application that alerts you when an ex-boyfriend is nearby, then you may have some interesting crossover of angles to pitch, from relationships and lifestyle to data privacy to mobile marketing. Next, to choose the right reporters and outlets, you’ll need to brainstorm possible beats that might match your story angles. Once audiences, pitch angles and story beats have been confirmed, it’s time to jump into Cision.


Using a database platform like Cision may seem like a streamlined and easy way of tossing together a media list. But to find the correct reporter contacts for your pitch, you’ll need to speak Cision’s language. Basically, you translate your story’s themes into keywords that match desired beats. “Relationships” beat writers can be searched using keywords like lifestyle, romance, and women’s interests, while mobile marketing beat writers are found under terms like mobile apps, mobile computing, and mobile communications. But be careful not to go down the keyword rabbit hole into the wrong beats. While a mobile apps reporter may like the story, a telecommunications or consumer electronics reporter will be annoyed with your offbeat pitch.

Good media lists improve relations

It may seem harmless to fire off email blasts to a hastily prepared list of media contacts, but every irrelevant or inappropriate email will deduct media relations points from your PR account. That annoyed reporter may not open your next note, or any others after that. Note that you will keep the lists for different verticals separate, since they require different pitches. Don’t forget to consider the size and prominence of the targeted outlets. Some story angles will be so broad or high-profile as to demand national publications with huge circulations, while others may be tailor-made for trade outlets, smaller publications, or bloggers. We strive to avoid wasting any journalist’s time. See this earlier post for more tips on good media relations.

Read the fine print

When parsing the list of media contacts, it’s easy to miss clues that disqualify them from your outreach. Though they may cover the correct beat, high-ranking journalists like editors-in-chief or managing editors don’t review pitches from PR people. Additionally, keep your eye on the fine print in Cision contact listings. If it says, “not an appropriate PR contact,” trust that advice. If the reporter lists no contact email address or has a generic like, do not include them. After you’ve exported your media list from Cision, it is imperative to double check the contacts using Google, since Cision is not always updated in real time.

Don’t stop at Cision

Cision is simply the starting point. Googling will not only serve as a double-check, but it yields additional reporter contacts. Use Google to check and see how often your listed journalists are published and if they tend to write relevant content. A contact listed under the “women’s interests” beat may write about anything from career to family health. And if a reporter has published only a single story in the past year, it’s a good clue that the contact’s information has not been updated in Cision. You may find that you have multiple reporter contacts listed for many outlets. Some PR pros believe that you should only pitch a single reporter per outlet, but we believe that in today’s fast-paced mediascape, pitching two or three reporters at an outlet is perfectly acceptable. Plus, some outlets like Forbes online enlist the aid of lots of freelance contributors who are not on staff.

A meticulously compiled media list of 30 reporters beats a haphazardly thrown together list of 200 any day of the week. Knowing your story themes and angles, the target audiences, and the right outlets – all in consideration of PR goals – will help pull together the best possible list. Consistently solid media research will lead to greater success and better media relations, which for most PR professionals is a top priority.

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