PR media list 101: How to create one successfully?

Whether you’re working for a PR agency or a freelancer, your public relations media list exemplifies how much expertise you have under your belt. It’s an element that substantiates how successful your PR campaigns will be and how much you can amplify your client's voice through the noise. In this guide, you’ll learn exactly what a media database comprises, how to craft one, and how to utilize it to improve your PR process.

Matias Rodsevich  |   
2023-12-05

Think of a media list as a portfolio of contacts: journalists, reporters, and bloggers interested in your industry pitches. Not every journalist you pitch to will know about your brand message, and not everyone will take the time to learn about it. This is why, as PR experts, it's important to seize every opportunity to streamline the workflow. Creating a functional media list is a significant part of getting positive media coverage. It will ensure your story has the chance to get exposure and reach the right audience engagement.

Journalists are sent thousands of pitches and press releases every day. Instead of getting lost in a sea of limelight, creating a successful media database means utilizing the right contacts to send timely and relevant pitches. To do this, you must formulate your pitch while considering its destination. So, before you even get into writing, you have to find the outlets that will magnify your stories. This includes finding contacts through previous collaborations, during industry-specific research, finding social media connections, and more.

There’s no exact method that everyone can follow, but there are tips and tools that can help you keep pace. While creating a media list, think of how many writers, influencers, and journalists are out there and how often their contacts change. It’s not just about creating a list as a reference point but also about constantly updating and keeping track of the changes.

Taking the time to organize your media database can guarantee exposure. Think of a media list like a schedule for your PR procedure that needs to be followed each time for consistent results. Let's start with the basics of a media list and why it's necessary to build a functional one.

What is a media list and why is it important?

Starting an impactful conversation with journalists is a path to better press coverage. Press releases are a way to share your story with the public and bring in more reputational awareness. In the hopes of getting coverage, many businesses often send a filled-in template email resembling a sales call to various irrelevant writers, but a hit-or-miss won’t get you press coverage. Journalists will only choose pitches suitable to their work.

A media list is not merely a record of every journalist, blogger, editor, and influencer with something to do with your industry. It is a curated list of appropriate and relevant sources to disperse your story.

A media list needs to be well-researched, including journalists you have worked with and those with the right audience. If you target a crowd of journalists, especially from the same publication, without having a purpose for reaching out to each one, you’re less likely to hear back from them. Beyond this, you’ll need their contact information, such as email address, what publication they work for, their most recent work, etc.

In the current context, journalism has less time and resources than public relations. The golden age of PR has advanced with various technologies and tools at our fingertips within the past years. But the same cannot be said for journalists. To level this imbalance, it’s essential not to overwhelm journalists with abundant pitches that have nothing to do with their work.

A media list will help structure and assemble your pitches to relevant journalists, so it has a higher chance of being chosen. It is also a way to stay organized so that you’re not wasting time researching journalists and bloggers, starting over each time you have a pitch in mind.

PR media list example: what do they look like

You can use tools like Google searches, X, Linkedin, and spreadsheets to create your own media list or subscribe to a media database, which we’ll explore in the next section. The media list should be personal and catered to a specialized industry. Let's say you’re creating a press release for a new software company. Stick to researching tech publications like WIRED, Tech Crunch, and freelance tech journalists.

You’ll also need tools to create and organize a media database. Here’s an example of what a simple media list looks like created on a spreadsheet application:

Beyond spreadsheets, online tools and media database softwares are convenient because they are fairly simple to use and allow for easy sharing. These are especially helpful if you’re creating a media list for an agency that requires elements of collaboration and cooperation. While media lists can be customized depending on what you deem is significant for creating pitches, here is a list of categories you can include in a media list:

  • Publication
  • Name Contact
  • Status
  • Industry
  • Email address
  • Location
  • Social media
  • Recent work
  • Submission status

Suggestion: as a part of these categories, include a 'conversation opener' that incorporates a sentence or two discussing their latest and previous works.

Organizing a media list based on these categories will ensure you have the basic information to get started with what kind of pitch you need to create. It also makes pitching easier by showing what your contacts like and what they've been working on.

Lastly, having a clear, info-packed, and visually organized layout is also significant for fast and effective use. Regularly updating and improving this resource keeps it relevant and useful in your future PR efforts.

Why is it better to build a media list instead of buying one?

Creating a media list can be time-consuming because it frequently needs to be updated which is why a PR database software can be a great starting point. Most PR professionals will subscribe to a PR service that has database functions that are refreshed and updated. PRHive is a software with a built-in media database and a global network of journalists.

After creating your contact list, the database software stores, updates, and enriches it with new contacts based on your existing list.

These tools are particularly handy because they update and modify specific categories, such as changes in the journalist's career profession and their most recent works. It is a middle ground between creating and buying your own media list.

If you’re starting out in PR, separate from media database software, there are also pre-made media lists that you can purchase. These are usually cheaper than subscribing to a PR software and are downloadable rather than customizable.

Using these is generally discouraged as most PR professionals and journalists emphasize the importance of having a relevant media database that is applicable to specific industry niches.

A media list needs to reflect the kind of coverage you want to get. It depends not only on the writers choosing your pitch but also on the audience it will reach. When you buy a media list, you can usually filter between a broad industry or a location, but it won’t cover all the categories you need. There are two reasons why buying a list is not recommended:

Reliability of ready-made media lists

Buying a ready-made media list can come with a rudimentary service because these are used by individuals who don’t do PR regularly. Often, while it provides access to media contacts, these contacts aren’t necessarily usable.

To make sure the information on the contact list is accurate, you’ll have to do your own research.

Missing or incorrect figures on a media database will obstruct pitch selection. Worse yet, if it makes its way to a writer, it might make your pitch seem poorly researched, which can impact your future chances with the publication. Make sure you look at a sample preview before buying a media list.

Redirect efforts for better outcomes

The main drawback of buying a media list is that the effort required to purchase a media list can be redirected into creating your own or you can subscribe to a PR software with a builtin media database for better results. This will have a higher chance of providing you with the desired outcome because the journalists on your list are relevant and the information is accurate.

You don’t want to waste extra money and time fact-checking while paying for a service that should do it for you.

Crafting the ideal PR media contact list

Creating a PR media contact list requires various steps depending on how in-depth you want your list to be. The success of a worthwhile media list depends on its planning phase. The central aspect to remember is that the better you plan before you get started, the more useful the result will be.

To make it coherent, each step is structured into five parts. These include brainstorming, context, structure, method, research, and update.

Think of the first three steps as the theoretical plan: what is your purpose for creating the media list? The last three steps are the practical implementation: How do you implement this context into the list for optimal use? In the following section, we’ll go more in-depth about what each step includes.

Tip: keep an eye on the tools recommended for each step.

1. Brainstorm: Recognize your pitching angle

Before you get started with external research, you need to figure out why you need a media list. Most companies use a media list to expand their reach and get better press coverage. Journalists can develop compelling stories around your content, which could reach a wider audience depending on their publication. But remember, this audience still needs to be a part of the target demographic. Before creating a media list, ask yourself what kind of content you need for a particular brand. This will vary between the intended audience and your specific industry.

Another thing to remember is understanding your role in relation to a journalist. A journalist's role involves collecting and presenting information neutrally and in a meaningful way. A public relations professional works to present information in a way that favors an organization and shapes the news. These roles diverge, and finding a middle ground is essential for effective collaboration. With this in mind, recognize your pitching angle before you start looking for journalists and bloggers. This will decrease the scope of your research later so you can write compelling pitches and pinpoint which journalists cater to which audiences.

Deliberately conceptualizing a pitching angle as a starting point will help create a narrative that resonates with the target audience and captures the attention of journalists. If you don’t have a direction for media coverage, it’ll be harder to curate a media list.

2. Context: Identify your target audience

PR is about upholding reputation and influence. To do this, you need to identify what kinds of audiences care about your brand and grasp the overall perceptions associated with it. Most PR practitioners will already have a way to measure and analyze media coverage to see their target audience. This way, you can target specific journalists or publications that align with your industry.

Going back to the debate of buying or creating a media list, creating one gives you the freedom of customization. Ready-made media lists don’t consider what kinds of audiences the journalists have concerning your industry. Consider the audience you want to reach with your news and determine where your story needs to be for them to discover it. Look at the websites, blogs, news sites, and newspapers they often read.

To do this, you’ll need to monitor your media. Audience engagement and expanding reach are a few advantages of media monitoring with the various software available. Look into media monitoring tools to help you do this. Its data can be used to analyze exactly what kinds of audience your brand attracts and which social media, locations, and niche sources your audiences come from.

Here are a few free media monitoring tools you can use for this step:

3. Structure: Choose an application to organize your data

After you have a media monitoring analysis report, you can start by thinking about how you will structure your media list. This can be done using a spreadsheet application (unless you’re going the media database software route, in which case this step can be skipped) which can be shared for collaboration and can be easily updated. Tools such as Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, or Quip can be used to create different spreadsheet documents and have all the customization elements needed for a media list.

Think about longevity when choosing an application because while a media list will initially consist of a shorter contact list, the goal is to increase and build up quality contacts throughout the years. Instead of moving all your contact list later down the line, consider investing in a long-term plan. If your organization already uses a management platform like Google Drive, Microsoft, or Dropbox, see if external tools can be integrated into these software management systems or whether it's more beneficial to use the built-in spreadsheet tools that come with these platforms.

While Google Sheets and Microsoft might be the simplest to use, paid services like Quip have additional elements that focus on collaboration with pre-made templates, cross-team collaboration, and better management tools. If you’re creating a media list for a bigger agency, this might be a better option.

Another alternative is Airtable. This application is a relational database software that is designed to scale up with an organization. It has a standard spreadsheet structure, with fields and records instead of columns and rows. It lets you connect tables, create a fully-fledged database system, and provide different data perspectives instead of the conventional grid format.

Here are the tools you can use in this step:

4. Method: Figure out what categories you need

After you choose your organization application, the next step is to create a template for your media list. This will make it easier to input data in the research stage. Segmenting your list relies on specific industries, and creating multiple tables for different contacts is beneficial. Let's say you work in the retail sector within PR. Instead of grouping all contacts for retail in one spreadsheet, create a master template table first, then use that template to create different sheets.

There are various types of media personnel you’ll need to find for each niche, whether it's for an e-commerce store, specialty brand, supermarket chain, or department store. These will determine which categories you need. The more segmented your media list is, the more useful it’ll be in the long run.

Going along with the retail example, start by naming the spreadsheet: ‘Media Contacts Master Template.’

This will serve as the main document for various categories, simplifying management and customization for specific industry segments in the research stage.

Then categorize each column. Here are some examples:

  • Publication name
  • First and last name
  • Status (journalist, blogger, influencer, etc)
  • Email address
  • Location
  • Social media (Linkedin or X)
  • Past work
  • Recent work
  • Writing style
  • Submission status
  • Source discovery (where you found them)

After you create a master document, create a copy so it correlates with different industry-specific niches. These will initially look similar to each other, so make sure to give them thorough titles, for example:

  • Health & Wellness media contacts
  • Fashion & Apparel media contacts
  • Food & Beverage media contacts
  • Home & Lifestyle media contacts

Now that you have the context, structure, and method for your media list, you can start collecting the database and filling in the contacts.

5. Research: Look for your media list and verify the information

Research niche industry-specific influencers who are most related to your pitch topic. If you’re already an expert in your specific PR industry, use your network to add to the list or ask others for connections. Rounding up a media list using known sources adds a human touch that is often lost in today’s digital era. This way, you can maintain a relationship with reliable journalists with whom you have a proven track record. Even if you’re using a media database software, you can input your own researched journalists to elevate your media list.

It's also important to note that instead of jumping into searching for industry well-knowns like The Washington Post or The Guardian, it's better to utilize micro-bloggers or influencers who have a growing following. They usually have loyal readers and, therefore, the potential to get higher engagement rates.

There are also various tools like Qwoted and Featured that can be useful to build up your media list.

Qwoted is a platform with vetted experts. Journalists and content creators can find expertise, and PR professionals can connect with these journalists. First, you have to get approved by adding your credentials. Then, you can reply to relevant journalists and respond to them. Journalists can also reach out to you since you are a part of the database.

Featured is another useful platform. It intends to make expert knowledge more accessible and sustainable in an AI-dominant world. The platform connects experts with publishers who answer questions in their area of expertise, which gets featured on leading media sites. Experts get exposure and publishers get a reliable source for their content. As a PR professional with expertise in a specific industry, you can find publishers and get your client’s names out there.

Social media like LinkedIn and X are especially helpful during this step because, in addition to finding relevant writers, you can see their career history. Even if they work in a different industry now, you can see all the places where their expertise lies.

Bringing up past work is extremely important in pitches because it shows journalists that there is a clear purpose for why you choose to pitch them.

These will help you verify their current job position and find their email address. You can follow relevant journalists and integrate yourself into the community. Rather than directly messaging them, curate your social media to fit your niche so you look the part. A lot of journalists and PR professionals also use #JournoRequest or #PRRequests in search of suitable connections.

Tools for this step:

6. Update: maintain your media list

The final step involves keeping the media list up-to-date so you can refer to it knowing you have accurate information. When you add a new contact, make a note to vet the entire list. This way, you can update the list without going out of your way each time. The goal of a media list is to have a curated record of relevant sources for your PR efforts. So, rather than verifying contacts individually after each pitch, it's more efficient to consistently update and maintain the list as you expand it.

How can I use my media list to get press coverage?

Now that you have your media list, you can use it to optimize your pitch reach using a precise and purposeful approach. After you know your pitch proposal, your first step is to look through the media database to see whether or not you have relevant sources that align with your message. If you’ve updated and maintained the list, this step should be fairly straightforward. This is also where the categories of your list will shine. You can look through jobs, locations, and recent work sections.

After you review the relevant contacts, you can start writing targeted pitches using the insights gathered from the media list. Mention their past and current work, writing style, and context in which you found them to attract their attention. This is also where the topic point or conversation starter category is beneficial. It can be used as a starting point for the pitch.

A well-compiled list of media contacts also accelerates networking. Keep a note of journalists or other sources from your list whom you have worked with on multiple occasions. This lets you easily reference past work and propose new ideas to start conversations.

Conclusion

Following these steps, tools, and tactics, you’ll thank your past self for enhancing and simplifying your PR process. As explained in this guide, a media database not only substantiates the success of your PR campaigns but also serves as a powerful tool to amplify your voice. Navigating media lists requires more than a static reference point. It demands continuous effort to update and keep pace with the changing contacts in the industry.

In essence, a media list is not just a checklist but a schedule for your PR procedures that ensure consistency in results. Investing effort into researching, organizing, and updating your media database means you already have the groundwork for guaranteed exposure before you even start working on your pitch.

Matias Rodsevich
CEO of PRHive
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