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Are Building Media Lists a Skill Set or an Art Form?

Welcome to my new video series, where we explore one question from this month’s #PRprochat Twitter chat, and dive into more detail! This week’s question:  Are building media lists a skill set or an art form? The short answer: both!

(Why, yes, that is Phoebe sleeping in her dish pan behind me. LOL)


“Hi – it’s Carrie Morgan, talking about #PRprochat. Our Twitter chat this month was all about building media lists with Cision and it was a great chat full of fun questions. In case you were wondering about the motion behind me, meet Phoebe, my spoiled cat. She had a rough night carousing, so she’s been snoozing in her dishpan on my desk all day long and I’m probably disturbing her by talking. But anyway, she’s a silent partner in our video today – enjoy it!

So, this is a new video series where I’m taking on one #PRprochat question that we addressed during the Twitter chat and I’m turning it into a short video. Once a week we’ll have a #PRprochat related question tied to whatever the topic was for the last chat. It’s June and our topic was Building Media Lists. So the first question I wanted to talk about is – are building media lists the right way a skill set or an art form?

And I really do think it’s both. I think it’s a skill set where you just dive in, identifying the publications you want to be in your list. You probably have a press release you need to distribute, so you’re pulling contacts into your list. But where the art form comes in is this: once you identify those top publications, you take a much closer look and you attach whatever those specific reporters and journalists are to your specific pitches, or to a custom list for that one press release. No more mass blasts, and no more using the same list over and over! 

So, say I have a press release going out for a technology client. I might have a list that I’ve already built targeting technology publications, but I need to personalize it for that particular press release. So I’m going to dive in, look at those publications, look at the contacts for each publication and say ‘Okay – my press release is about XXX and YYY, so the right kind of reporters that I want to target are XYZ.’ I might include technology beat reporters, so I make sure I add those in, but then I’m also going to look deeper at each individual publication and each reporter at that publication, thinking ‘Okay – what other reporters might be a perfect fit for this story?’ Not an ‘I wish they would cover it, even though they probably won’t so I’m just gonna make my list really big in hope of more placements’ kind of a thought process, but a “how can I dive in and really find the right reporters that are interested in this topic, that would cover it” one. Thinking through THEIR needs and creative ideas for that custom pitch are definitely an art form, because you have to know enough about your client to understand the details of the story and be able to create that pitch that really resonates, but there’s that standard skill set where you can go in and identify the publication and find their contact information, for example. That’s a cut-and-dried skill. 

Another skill is just the basic due diligence that we all do when we’re first building a list; when we think, ‘what kind of publications are applicable to this and who do I need to make sure are a part of my list?’ It’s a basic process that we use when we build a list. The art form is taking it a step further, so say it’s a technology release and I want to include some B2B talk radio stations, maybe even satellite radio stations that cover technology. Okay, that’s awesome, but that’s not every radio station, right? Very few fit that narrow of a subject. There may not be any radio stations in Phoenix that cover technology at all, and I’m not just going to include the biggest radio stations in my list, with the thought process of ‘Oh, it can’t hurt – I’m just going to include them in case they can pick through this and find a story idea’. That’s a total waste of their time and a poor PR practice. I’d first look for any technology-specific radio stations, which there probably aren’t any, then I’d look deeper for a technology-specific show on a station. You want to go in and look at broadcast stations specifically interested in technology, that cover technology, so that your list is a rich resource and what you’re sending is very relevant to them. Don’t send a technology press release to a home electronics beat reporter at a newspaper unless the piece of technology is used in the home! Narrow it down to the granular level.

Worry less about the size of your media list and more about the relevancy. Short but highly targeted is magical, big is sloppy.

In today’s PR, we don’t mass blast pitches, ever – that’s just not how it works. You customize down to the  granular level for each publication, each individual contact and the topics or beats they cover. But what we still DO mass blast is press releases, and it’s where the gap lies between the skill of building a media list and the art form of creatively targeting it.

Maybe it’s an intern building the list and you don’t really tell them what the press release is about, you just give them a general idea of the industry and say ‘Go build me a media list’ and that’s it! They don’t really know what to do, so they go and build a media list, but maybe it’s got every local contact under the sun – every radio station, every television station, every breaking news assignment desk, editor and reporter under the sun – it’s just a giant mess. It doesn’t even have to be related, but that intern will include it in a list. As a seasoned PR person, you can look at that list and say ‘Whoa – that’s not a good list, because it’s full of all kinds of reporters and media that frankly couldn’t care less about this press release’, but an intern isn’t going to know that, or someone with less experience may not know that. They’ll blast out that press release and piss off virtually every reporter on the list, or send it to “” black hole inboxes with no specific contacts, then wonder why there aren’t any pickups.

The art form kicks in whether we’re building lists ourselves or whether we’re delegating it to someone else, thinking through the story ideas. “XXX are the kind of story ideas that I’ll pitching, so I’ll need contacts covering the XYZ beat’ or ‘the press release is about XXX, so here’s some ideas on what kind of contacts might be applicable for that distribution list’; but it’s diving in deeper, so that’s definitely something that experience brings and it’s more of an art form because it takes creativity, not just cut and dried searches for a contact.

So, anyway – that’s the difference I see for that one, and that’s the question for this week. Talk to you soon!”


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