4 Steps to Develop an Accurate Media List for Successful Placements

Much of a PR professional’s bread and butter depends on successful media placements for our clients. No matter how good a pitch is, if you’re not sending it to the appropriate people, it’s going to fall on deaf ears. Follow these four steps to find the right people – or develop an accurate media list.

Define the Scope and Audience

First, you need to hone in on the appeal of the client and the story to define who in the media might be receptive to your pitch. For example, a story about an event in Detroit will probably not be very compelling to a writer for the San Antonio Express-News. However, if that opening in Detroit is an indicator of a trend that is also happening in Texas, then a San Antonio writer might be interested. Or if you are offering thought leadership about, say student test-taking skills for a nationwide client, you might pitch your expert to national trade media that cover children and parenting topics. Or find people who cover families and parenting in your client’s top markets.

Defining the scope of the pitch (national, local, trade, business, features, etc.) is a key first step before moving on.

Previous Solid Contacts

Next, I rely on my rolodex. (Yes, I just dated myself!) I think about past contacts that might be interested in the topic at hand. An alternate strategy is to think about the outlet where your client might like to have coverage, and approach a trusted, previous journalist there that you’ve worked with before with a “soft sell” pitch, asking if they know of a colleague who might be interested in this new pitch.

Search Keywords and Titles and Vet

Once I’ve exhausted my previous contacts list, I move onto the good, old database search engine, using keywords and titles. I seek business writers/editors if I have a business pitch. If it’s a features story, I sleuth out lifestyle writers. I look for environmental contacts if I have an eco-pitch. And so on.

When I have that list, I begin to vet them. I look at their publications to see if these contacts actually have written on the given topic in the last few months. I do this because beats and contacts change – frequently and fast. By vetting an individual contact on an outlet’s website, I also learn if the database has old or faulty information, which does happen, and I can find an alternate contact.

Fill in the gaps and use your tools

Finally, I fill in gaps. If it’s a lifestyle story that might be good for broadcast news, I not only look for a reporter at the station that has covered that topic in the past or who might be friendly to the pitch, but also add the assignment desk general email to the list. The people who make decisions for TV news always make reporter assignments the day-of (unless it’s a bigger story and you’ve secured interest) and it is these gatekeeper assignment editors where you need to sell your pitch.

And don’t forget to use all the tools in your toolbox. Look at not only the database information (and take it with a grain of salt), but also the author bios on the media’s website, a freelancer’s home page, Twitter (now X), LinkedIn, and Instagram. The personal details you find on a journalist’s bio page can yield many useful details for successfully pitching a story.

By sleuthing out Twitter bios, I once learned that a specific TV reporter in New York City had an affinity for tennis, so was able to successfully pitch her a story with a strong U.S. Open angle. It’s this kind of research that helps earn stories that can become huge client wins.