Hand-building Media Lists: Media Relations 101 Part 1

Yes, yes, there are media databases and it is possible to start this kind of a project using one but frankly, you are just going to have to go back through it and do this work anyway.  Plus you are paying big bucks for that database access and the temptation is to not do the research to confirm that the names that turn up are really your best targets.  (And then you can find yourself in the embarrassing situation of contacting someone who “stopped covering that beat 6 months ago” or “When I said I write about finance, I meant personal finance”.)

Goal: Reach a specific target market through the major media, reach a specific demographic — job title, industry, etc.  What do the people in this industry read?

A media list and the editorial calendar project are two separate but related projects and I will post the instructions for  hand building an editorial calendar next week.  (It is easier to work on them at the same time since you are usually on their website for both.) I usually use different worksheets (or tabs) inside the same spreadsheet. If it is going to be a large media list, you may want to have different tabs for different types of media.  Here are examples:

  • Broadcast
  • Local business press
  • Industry/Trade press
  • Newsletters
  • Blogs

You may even need to break down the publications by frequency: dailies, monthlies, weeklies, quarterlies and give each its own worksheet.

Each worksheet in a media list will have columns for:

  • The reporter’s name
  • Title
  • Beat (what they cover.  Can be as broad as an industry or as narrow as a single company.)
  • Publication name
  • Contact info – email and phone.  Today my media lists also contain Twitter user names
  • Website (publication and individual blog, if there is one)
  • Address (useful for knowing time zone even if you never actually mail anything.) You should also know location as you may be able to snag a 1-on-1 meeting with your favorite reporters if you are ever nearby.
  • Include a notes column with specifics on the publication itself and what it covers.
  • You may also want a column for contact notes:  LM (left message), TW (talked with) and the dates as well as actions.  Some people work in their media lists, some use other tools to track actions.

Start off by looking in Google News or other online news sources for similar topics and stories to the ones you want to eventually see.  Note the publication’s name for each, click through, explore the website, look for the contact us page, the listing of the editorial staff, or even the “media kit.”  These are the places you expect to see listings of the editorial staff and their beats.  If there isn’t any contact information, you can explore the articles themselves; again look for articles such as the one you want and find out who wrote it and how to get in touch with them.  Read the articles.  Note the publication’s stated mission and target market.

Follow any leads from industry blogs and websites.  Look for industry associations and see if they have newsletters.  Ask your client what they read.  What do their customers read?

Go to websites for the major press release distribution services: PR Newswire and Businesswire. They have distribution circuits for geographies and industries.  Look at their lists for your industry.  Again, each publication needs to be researched to make sure it is really relevant.

Sometimes reporters blog about their contact and story preferences — for example Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe has a great blog post about what stories he wants to write.) Insert any relevant contact info for the specific beat reporter, the editorial assistant and the managing editor into the spreadsheet.  You may also want to know the editor-in-chief’s name and if there is a mechanism for submitting press releases (a standard PR@magazinename.com for example.  Sometimes there is a form on the website for this purpose.  Add the location of this important form to the spreadsheet.

There is no shortcut for “knowing” a publication and a reporter’s work.  You must read a publication to be able to pitch it accurately.  Read what a reporter has previously written, in the publication and perhaps on their own blog or others.  Have they recently spoken at an industry event?  Did people tweet about it or blog about it?  What did they say?  You can get all kinds of insights into what a reporter wants to cover that way.

One thought on “Hand-building Media Lists: Media Relations 101 Part 1

  1. All great points Bobbie.

    I’d add a somewhat controversial point. Invest the time — and sometimes that means lots of time — building a great media list.

    Why? Most importantly, you’ll get those editors and reporters who may not come up in a basic keyword search. Secondly, you won’t be wasting time pitching the wrong reporters.

    Some people disagree with this. They prefer just relying on the large list generated by the PR database and pitch away even if not appropriate. IMO, time and client money is wasted by this approach.

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