A beginner’s guide to building media lists

The journalism industry is constantly changing. People switch jobs to other publications, decide to leave the industry altogether, or worse (and seen more frequently these days), publications fold into the abyss.

This makes it very difficult for public relations folk like us to keep our media lists up to date, and in my 5+ years of experience working in the industry, PR database services still aren’t reliable enough to use as a primary research tool.

So we’re often-times still left with doing the dirty work – lots of manual research to keep lists relevant and to avoid bounced emails. Below are a few tips you can follow to keep your current media lists up to date or build completely new ones.

Old media list? Start with a clean slate
If it has been awhile since your last outreach campaign, you should start with a blank spreadsheet. Don’t import old contacts, because there’s a good chance they’re either irrelevant to your new campaign, or the reporter is no longer there.

If you know of a few close journalists off the top of your head who might be relevant to your new outreach, add them in and start there.

Subscribe to industry publications
We certainly don’t have enough time to keep tabs on every journalist we’ve been in touch with. The least you can do is follow websites who report on career and publication changes within the industry. A few sites I recommend for this are O’Dwyer’s, Cision’s Blog and PR Daily.

Follow on social media
If you’re an active social media user, follow your favorite reporters and publications on social networks like Facebook and Twitter to keep tabs on their current status. This is also a great way to see what they’re talking about and adjust your PR strategy accordingly, to align with current affairs.

Revisit websites for the latest contact information
Keeping your media lists up to date is a fairly time consuming task, and unfortunately there isn’t much of a way around it if you want to be accurate. The only place you’re going to find a contact’s most current information is by going directly to their publication’s website.

You might have to do some hunting around to find it, but it’s a lot more accurate than using a PR database service. Which brings me to…

Use online PR services for reference
Don’t get me wrong – services like Cision and MuckRack are important tools for publicists, but they just aren’t accurate enough to completely rely on.

Instead, take advantage of the specific features these services offer, and use them as a general reference for your research. MuckRack is excellent for finding journalists by what they’re talking about online, and Cision has some great power search functions for finding niche publications.

Use an email hunting service
Still having trouble finding a journalist’s email address? Try using tools like VoilaNorbert or Email Hunter. They don’t always work, but I’ve found them to be accurate enough to add to your list of daily PR tools. Worst case, you can always guess a contact’s email address based on other email addresses within their organization.