Gini Dietrich

Help! My Client Has Asked for My Media List. What Do I Do?

By: Gini Dietrich | September 26, 2017 | 

Media ListIt was a fateful breakfast back in 2009.

A good friend—and USA Today journalist—was in town and invited me to breakfast.

As we sat and caught up on happenings during the year since I’d last seen him, he said to me:

I’ve been furloughed.

Of course, that was terrible news for him, and we both knew it was the beginning of the end.

Selfishly, it was horrendous news for me.

I mean, I had a serious in at USA Today.

I never, ever abused it, but when we had a client who was a perfect fit for him, you can bet he got a phone call.

And it’d been that way for 15 years.

Suddenly, with the Global Recession and so many newspapers closing shop, that business relationship went down the tubes.

(We are, of course, still friends and he now works on the dark side as a communicator.)

I think about the relationships we have with journalists a lot, particularly when a client asks for our media list.

The Baby Rabbit Email Syndrome

How often have you been added to an email list you didn’t subscribe to?

I’m fairly certain there is some email software somewhere that subscribes you to 10 lists every time you unsubscribe to one.

They’re like rabbits! They multiply!

It’s annoying and it makes you hate email—even the ones you want to receive.

Now multiply that by 1,000.

Let’s say I handed over my media list to a client and they started spamming the relationships I’ve carefully cultivated throughout my career.

And, worse, let’s say they said:

Gini Dietrich gave me your name and suggested I email you about this amazing new product we are launching next week that you would never write about in a million years because it doesn’t fit your beat.

How would that make you feel?

Worse than the baby bunny rabbit emails you get?

I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t like Gini Dietrich very much.

Do Not Give Out Your Media List

That is precisely why you must not give your media list to anyone.

Protect it with your life.

Not only is it proprietary to you and your organization, it holds the relationships you have with other human beings.

Today, it’s not difficult to build a media list from scratch.

I have no problem with you saying:

The names and contact information on our media list is proprietary, but I’d be happy to share the media outlets we’ve been pitching.

Then, they can go to Google, or the outlet’s websites, and figure out who to pitch, without you giving up your relationships.

There are maybe two reasons a client wants your media list.

One is because they are about to let you go because they think they can do it better.

Which is fine. That happens.

(Even though we all know how that turns out.)

But not at the expense of hurting the relationships you’ve cultivated with journalists.

Spamming Journalists is Never Good

This very topic has come up several times in the past few weeks in the PR Dream Team.

For instance:

I was asked by a client this week to share my media list, which I’ve carefully curated throughout the years. I have a feeling she thinks she can save time and money by doing it on her own from here on out, but it makes me really uncomfortable.

This is fairly typical and it won’t be the first time this PR Dream Team member will be asked this.

It is very common when a client thinks they can pitch more effectively than the PR firm can.

And, in some cases, they can.

But should they?

It all comes down to where you should spend your time and what is the most effective use of that time.

We just had this conversation internally.

We’ve sort of let our Spin Sucks media relations activities subside this year.

What? I’m busy! It gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

Of course I can absolutely pitch myself to big business publications. But does that mean I should?

It might happen faster if I do it—for a whopping two days when I have a few extra hours.

But I know I’ll lose focus once something bigger comes up.

It makes much more sense to have someone working on it consistently for me.

I’m a communicator. I cut my teeth doing media relations. I have friends who write for the big publications.

And I would still have someone help me with media relations.

So what does that say about those who have zero experience in media relations?

You know what happens.

They take your media list and start spamming journalists.

It’s not good for either one of you.

Two Problems with Overnight Success Media Hits

The other reason a client wants your media list is they think, if they help pitch, they’ll get double the coverage.

Or, worse, if they contact the journalists you’ve already contacted and plead their case, they’ll get more interest.

Case in point:

We’re doing PR for a startup and they’ve just officially launched. Despite the fact that we’ve done some killer stuff for them (including getting a TechCrunch story), they are not happy with the results. They want to make lots of money as fast as possible and they think more coverage will do that. They’ve asked us for our media list so they can pitch, too.

This presents two problems:

  1. Going back to a journalist who has either ignored you or flat out told you no is never good for business. Even if the CEO contacts them directly, it’s rare the journalist will say, “Oh, well now that the CEO has emailed me, I’ll do the story!” Au contraire! What will most likely happen is you’re guaranteed to now be on their black list.
  2. Media relations, alone, does not make an organization lots of money as fast as possible! Every executive in the world used to watch Oprah and see how one mention from her could cripple their websites because so many people wanted to buy. And every executive in the world wants that. But a) Oprah is no longer on the air; and b) that kind of “overnight success” typically takes years to place. You don’t just call up Oprah’s team and get on the air the next day. Stuff like that literally takes years. For a startup that just launched, a big media hit like that might happen in 2019 for them…if they start now.

Media relations is a human being relationship building game.

It takes time.

If a client asks for your media list, he or she is hoping to shortcut the relationship-building part and go right to the ask.

Of course, that’s never how it works and you have to be valiant in protecting your relationships.

Challenge Yourself Before You Give Away Your Media List

There are certainly going to be times that you feel bad and want to help the client.

Maybe you think it’s not a big deal to give them your media list…at least just this once.

Before you do, I challenge you to ask yourself and then the client:

If someone I didn’t know emailed me about something I’d already said no to or didn’t care about, how would I feel?

And then:

If someone I didn’t know emailed me and said a friend had sent them, but it’s clear they didn’t do their homework ahead of time, how would I feel?

Give them a list of the media outlets you’ve pitched or planned to pitch.

But protect the relationships and their contact information with your life.

Now it’s your turn…how do you feel about giving a client your media list?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Brenda Gabriel

    Great advice Gina! I have been tempted in the past to give out media lists. In fact on one occasion I did which ended in disaster. I did it to appease the client who wanted everything for nothing and they still weren’t happy and didn’t see the value of what they were given, despite securing coverage in a national magazine off the back of it. Lesson learned.

    • Been there, girlfriend! I totally speak from experience. 🙂

  • KensViews

    I’m a big believer in “Say no, without saying ‘no'”. Your proposed response, “The names and contact information on our media list is proprietary, but I’d be happy to share the media outlets we’ve been pitching” does just that. Well done.

    • Like Adam said, I’m a big believer in not burning bridges. If, like some of our community members have mentioned, you feel uncomfortable, listen to your gut. It’s likely telling you something very important. The last thing you want is for some overly zealous business owner to say, “Ken Jacobs gave me your name and I think you should do this story.”

      • KensViews

        Well, if Ken Jacobs gave them your name, they SHOULD do the story! 🙂

  • Dawn Buford

    Why would you even entertain the thought of so easily handing over something that you have spent years of hard work growing and cultivating? You’ve earned the trust of those on your list and you don’t want to destroy that trust. Repeat after Gini….NEVER give away your media list to anyone!

  • 100% agreed! I counsel clients to NOT give out all the data — just enough (outlet name, location) that they are assured you’re doing what was agreed upon. The old adage, “Don’t give away the farm” comes to mind. 😉

    • It’s like anything, really. If you have a great relationship with the client and you’ve been working with them for years, they have the same relationships you have. You may have been the catalyst, but they’ve certainly begun to build relationships with the same people on their own.

      If, however, you’re working with a client like in my second example and they think they can do a better job than you, I really caution against handing your entire list over.

  • Longtime reader of the blog, but I don’t know that I’ve commented until now. As an agency flack turned in-house comms. team lead, I’m somewhat surprised to read your reticence to provide a media list to a client upon request. That’s not to say media lists should be provided in all cases. For example, for project work I agree that it’s likely not in the best interest of the PR agency to provide this. But in most long-term partnerships, I would argue the client can/should have easy access to a full contact list as well as ongoing visibility concerning interactions on behalf of the brand.

    I’ve worked with a number of agencies throughout my career, and the best ones are always happy to share this information as the list itself has little to no value – it’s the depth of the relationships they’ve built that is valuable, not to mention the strategic advice they can offer about how to best communicate a story to their network.

    • I think we’re saying the same thing. Where I see issues (and this goes to the first question we’ve received from our community members) is when the client is going to fire you and just wants to email the people on your list. Or, to the second question, when they want to do the follow-up themselves because they don’t think you’ve done enough work.

      I agree with you that in long-term relationships, the client likely already has the list. We certainly have said, “So and so at such and such publication would like you to provide XYZ.” So they already know who we’re talking to.

      I have issue with it only when the client doesn’t value the relationship, thinks they can do it better, and you know they’re just going to spam your contacts.

    • P.S. Thanks for jumping into the fray on this one!

      • Glad I commented so I could read your follow up. Love the work you do here.

        • Funny! I can see your photo in the backend of our site, and your dog here.

  • Edward M. Bury

    Although I am somewhat removed from the agency environment and pitching media regularly, my perspective: A public relations consultancy is a business. A well-managed business does not give away products or services without being compensated. Media relationships nurtured over years — or even decades — fall into a privileged category of intellectual property that under no circumstances should be shared outside the agency. Clients who demand or even subtly request access to a media list should be resigned. Who knows what other, perhaps even more unsavory, demands would follow.

    • There certainly are situations where the media list is a collaborative effort between client and agency. I truly only have issue with it when the client is about to fire you because they think they can do media relations better than you can.

  • Liz Reusswig

    Great response to that awkward ‘something for nothing’ request. For those that aren’t planning a DIY approach (and most probably are!), it shows they don’t really understand the value you bring to the table. But…as you point out, they will! 😉

    • Both Adam and John raise good points. If the agency/client relationship is long-term—and the client tends to be a larger organization—they typically already know who the agency is pitching. That’s not where I have issue. It’s exactly to your point…when they want to do it themselves.

  • Adam Cormier

    Respectfully, taking a different approach will strengthen your relationship with the client and not burn a bridge… we know our community is way too small. At the onset of the relationship (Phase 1), you and the client need to identify the set of titles where secured coverage will achieve your goals. If this conversation is strategic, negotiated and agreed upon, then you and the client are on the same page with transparency. Phase 2, give the client feedback on your pitching… we’ll need A, B and C to get into TechCrunch. Phase 2 is critical to your client relationship. You have set goals and the client fully understands the path to success, so you no longer have ALL of the skin in the game. The client owns it just as much as you, which leads us to Phase 3… the dreaded request… Because you have goals, because you have feedback from pitching, becuase the client knows what is needed to have success… you can now answer, “you already have it and know what we need to secure more coverage… what is your timing to securing these things so that we can achieve our goals together?” Your relationships are your IP and your ability to garner feedback from media (prior relationship or not) is your special sauce… your client is paying you for this. If you set up Phase 1 and execute Phase 2, the client will see the value of their investment… and can share the feedback from the reporter up the chain, so that leadership can either get what’s needed or more clearly understand why.

    • This is great, Adam! So let’s take this further. In the second example I use above, the client wants to make lots of money really fast and thinks media relations will do it. In this case, they’ve already secured some great coverage, but the client isn’t happy…because their goal is to make lots of money in a short amount of time (and who doesn’t want that?).

      Is at that point that you say the goals aren’t aligned and help them find another agency? Do you give them a media outlet list and the feedback you’ve already received (I still don’t think you give them contact information)? Do you begin the long, arduous process of education and try to bring the P, S, O of the PESO model into the mix? Do you just wash your hands of it?

      • Adam Cormier

        When you expect a fastball and the pitcher throws a curve, you keep your weight back and hit the ball to the opposite field. In other words, put on your marketer hat and pivot the conversation. Hopefully, the sense of urgency set the tone from the original goal setting. But let’s assume, the major investor had a bad day and wants that “movie check” ASAP. Money comes from sales (or acquisition), sales come from leads, etc.

        First question to the client… what’s the sales conversion rate for the leads from PR? Now, I’d bet decent money that they have not been able to track those leads. You ask the question to level set the conversation with the client. Understand where the request comes from… the CFO freaked out to the CEO, the CEO freaked out to the CMO and CRO… the CMO calls in Demand Gen, Comms, etc. and lights a massive fire under everyone.

        Second question, can you share your list of top prospects… who do you need to move into and through the sales funnel ASAP? This gives you direction on the who and what. Now comes the fun part to figure out the how and when… assuming the client provided that data. Assuming there’s no new news of any significance, which is 99.999 percent of the time… you move the conversation to the PESO discussion. Again, a lot of these headaches can be solved with solid upfront work so this won’t be a net new conversation, but a reminder of a previous conversation (remember 6 months ago when I showed you this integrated approach blah blah blah).

        The lead time to move a prospect into the funnel from proactive media relations alone will not satisfy any sense of urgency. Media relations builds brand and it is a long play for lead generation.

        It is so much easier to please an existing client than to find a new one. Pull the integrated plan together, explain the thought process and available options and then execute.

        After you save the day (again), pull the client aside and have a heart to heart… call it a meeting to update campaign goals.

        FWIW… I still have not given them a media list 😉

        • I love figuring out where the sense of frustration has come from (which is why part of our job is definitely psychologist).

          Now, for argument’s sake (because this is fun), let’s say your job is to track attribution, nurturing, and conversion…but you haven’t done a good job of it. Not because you don’t have the tools to do it—the client has given you access—but because either you don’t know how or account management isn’t a priority.

          The onus is on you and you haven’t proven that you’ve generated sales qualified leads. The client thinks the issue is you aren’t doing enough on media relations, but the real problem is that you aren’t proving your worth.

          How do you backtrack and almost start over?

          • Adam Cormier

            Okay… digging deep here and this will take some effort and educated guesses IF your campaign tagging strategy has failed. Also, you are going to have to answer a few critical questions (the CMO will appreciate this, if you don’t already have the answers).

            Let’s assume that you cannot un-ring the bell and you have to backtrack

            Key data sets:
            1) Source traffic – you are going to have to deduce web traffic from earned media coverage. Bump up traffic spikes (or blips) to coverage dates (don’t forget that traffic from coverage is not a single day event).

            2) Outlet SEO – how easy is it to find your coverage.

            Once you have this data, you then have to answer these key questions: Where is the handoff in the buyer journey from PR to Marketing? Is PR accountable to get the buyer to raise a hand, enter a gate or is PR responsible to get the buyer to the site?

            The impact of great coverage could be lost if the website and gate strategy sucks. Likewise, if the site is fully optimized and PR doesn’t deliver traffic, well then… time for a tough conversation. Understanding the traffic performance of your coverage should help determine a rate of leads generated.

            From the sales perspective, at best media relations can deliver traffic to the right web page. Anything beyond that, then I think you are expecting too much from earned media relations as a lead gen source.

          • You are so smart!

          • Adam Cormier

            And to think… all of this work to avoid handing over a media list! 😛

          • But we got more content out of it so stay tuned!

  • Susan Stoga

    What Adam said. And at the end of the day, I do say no. And I turn the conversation to content marketing, a discussion about organic key words and such. Client is usually asking about lead generation, not just coverage.

    • EXACTLY THIS! We most certainly can generate leads, but not with media relations alone. Which goes to the larger “what is PR?” conversation. Most think of us just as publicists and we have to, have to do a better job educating business leaders on a larger and integrated approach.

  • Paul Kelly

    Spot-on, Gini. No agency or institutional PR professional should feel compelled to hand over a contact or media list that has been developed and cultivated for years. That’s proprietary. Period. Plus what if even one of the recipients signed up for the list expecting something besides spam from a client? That’s a serious violation of trust. Anyone PR professional who thinks it’s not a problem to hand over a media list needs a refresher on ethics and standards in this industry. KenViews’ approach below is a perfect, deft way to handle this situation.

    • This is an interesting thought, Paul. It does fall on the unethical line, just like selling someone’s email address, if the client hasn’t helped to cultivate and curate the media list. If it feels yucky to you, don’t do it.

  • A huge No!

    We are all pressed by time, budget, clients, but asking for the media list is first lack of respect for the the PR firm or the PR professional you’re working with. Second, it’s unprofessional. It’s like asking your client for their clients database…Let’s see how fast they say you’re crazy to ask that.

    You hired a PR firm to do that for you. Let it do its job. Moreover, if you want results so badly, why not connect your PR firm with journalists you know, or people who know journalists in your space? That’s a lot of work, right? Thought so.

    I’ll stay with, “Media relations is a human being relationship building game.”

    • It is all about relationships. I have no problem with our clients having relationships with the key journalists in their industry (and, as you know, we encourage it). But I do not want anyone spamming my relationships with requests.

  • Bunnies!! Okay, I would not give out the list and agree with Ken that a no should be as diplomatic as possible. I’m that way with my LinkedIn connections and friends too. On a tangent: I’d really like to know how a recruiter I never dealt with got my cell number. Blacklisted. I also turned down a request to answer 15 questions – in depth – from an unsolicited email. (She emailed me at work too & didn’t make the connection that it was still me.) As you can see, it’s not just media lists that are being shared!

    • I’m like you with LinkedIn. If I don’t know you well enough to introduce you to someone who asks, I don’t let you into my circle. For the exact recruiter having your cell phone number reason you mention.

  • I hate to say that even though I used to be on the media side, this still had me thinking: Would, or have I ever asked for someone’s list?

    The answer is no, but maybe not 100% no. I’ve asked for an intro to so-and-so. I already have their contact details, but an intro makes a cold call warmer. Not the same thing (I hope), and there’s no way I’d ask for someone’s list.

    • Yeah, I think that’s different. I have no problem with making intros. I always ask the person first—would you mind if I introduced you to so-and-so?

  • Debbie Johnson

    Great post and great responses!

  • You think this is brazen? I’ve had people who weren’t even clients ask me for my media list!

  • Toni Antonetti

    We give out the names of outlets and not contact names, email and phone numbers. Most of my longtime clients know the reporters anyway, and they want me to contact them because they have other work to do. For those who ask for your media list so they can pitch it themselves, It’s the magic ticket syndrome. “If I can just get an article in such and such magazine….” Never mind that a successful product launch depends on much more than PR, but micromanaging PR is so much easier that looking internally to 1) product quality 2)supply 3)customer service.