Five Ways to Build a Better Media ListBy Aly Saxe

In the PR business, it’s all about whom you know. Like most PR pros, you probably have a modern day Rolodex (media list spreadsheet) of your strongest contacts—the media and influencers you’ve been working with for years.

Layered on top of that is a list of folks you’ve probably pitched many times, maybe interacted with a little, but they aren’t the ones who will pick up the phone when you call.

After that are the rest—the tens of thousands of influencers you’ve never met, but need to forge a connection with for that new client, new story, or new role.

With so many moving parts, and so many reporters, bloggers, analysts, and other influencers to reach, building a killer media list for every campaign can be a full-time job in and of itself.

Thank goodness for interns, right?

Get real.

The interns don’t know that Ronnie Reporter hates email subject lines and will do anything for a cronut. They don’t know that you and Betsy Blogger bonded over dirty martinis in ’04.

No, you can’t leave this job to the intern.

So what’s a PR pro to do when it comes time to build a media list?

Five Ways to Build a Better Media List

For quick results, a lot of pros go straight to a media contact database and pull a list using search terms.

(No one reading this is flacky enough to blast that media list with a single, automated pitch so we won’t go there.)

But once you have the list, do you stop there?


Now is when the real work begins.

Building a great media list should take as much care and strategy as you’d apply to anything else in your job. So let’s go through some proven tactics to help you manage your media relationships the right way.

Value Quality Over Quantity

The old idea that any publicity is good publicity is woefully outdated. Pitching as many people as possible—even one-on-one pitching—does not lead to mass quality coverage.

What it does lead to is wasted time and potentially burning relationships with valuable contacts.

Make sure everyone on your media list not only could care about your story, but should care about your story.

This means doing your research.

Reporters move around a lot, so make sure each and every contact on the list is still covering the beat listed in the database or spreadsheet you pulled them from.

For that matter, make sure they are still at that media outlet. Read their most recent articles and social media posts. Find the connection between what they’re writing about and the story you want to pitch.

In other words, don’t be lazy.

It’s vital to explain this to your clients, or boss if you’re internal, so they understand the importance of securing good coverage versus any coverage.

Check Out Your Competitors

Hey, they’re probably doing the same thing.

Taking a look at your competitors’ media coverage is actually a great way to identify influencers who cover the same industry or topics you’re looking to pitch.

Ask Before You Add

It’s amazing how much a little respect and consideration can soften even a cynical reporter.

Seek out high-level influencers you’d like to reach out to someday and simply ask if you can add them to your list for your company or client who is in the beat they cover. 

It’s the difference between being just another PR flack filling their inbox and being a considerate resource.

Take the Time to Make Personal Connections

I believe PR is the original growth hack, and I also believe the key to frequent, more quality wins lies in the power of the relationships.

You can’t automate that.

There are certain influencers who will come up on your media lists again and again.

Pay attention to these folks.

If you are in the same city, ask for an in-person meeting just to get to know them and their pitching preferences. If you are not in their city, ask for 10 minutes on the phone to find out how you can become a valuable resource.

Trade shows and events are a great place to connect with media and influencers. Coffee is good. Booze is better.

This is about establishing relationships, not giving them a hard sell, so just take it easy and focus on finding out how you can help them long term.

The effort will pay you back in spades.

Stay Informed About Who Covers Your Topics of Interest

Don’t wait until you’re about to start pitching down the list to read up on what these media contacts are writing. It should be part of your weekly or even daily routine to follow the media who matter most to your company or clients.

It’s the easiest way to get into their world, and you’ll be pleased to find that opportunities to connect have a way of organically emerging when you stay in the know.

It’s also a great way to show media contacts that you didn’t just pluck their name from an enormous database, but that you’re someone who actively follows their work. It won’t hurt to engage a little on social media and comment on their posts.

Media relations: Not the easiest game in PR town, but definitely the most worthwhile when you manage it right.

Use the right tools, build a great media list and you’ll find the relationships turn into PR gold.

image credit: Pixabay with a little help from us

Aly Saxe

Aly Saxe is the founder and CEO of Iris, software for agencies and in-house PR teams. She founded Ubiquity Public Relations, an agency representing high-growth B2B tech startups, in 2007.

View all posts by Aly Saxe