Dear Flack: Media Lists

(CC) flickr // bobster855

Dear Flack,

I really, really hate making media lists. I feel like I do not know what I’m doing and I’m about to lose my mind. Do you have tips for creating the best media lists possible?


Dear Listomania,

I can almost guarantee that, at this very instant, there are publicists cowering in office corners suffering from research overload. Typical symptoms may include: spending hours yelling profanities at databases, excel nausea and continuous calls to media software help desks.

Simultaneously, there are also group of Account Managers that have been diagnosed with “Wow, that’s a crappy media list” syndrome. Side effects include: severe eye rolling, muttering under their breath, evil stares and throwing up the arms in complete annoyance.

Let’s be honest here: creating a media list can be one of the most agonizing, frustrating and least rewarding tasks as a publicist. I mean it’s not like they hand out medals for the best media list ever.

Just a nerd alert: I love media lists and researching, probably because I spent almost half of my college career in the library. However, media lists are definitely NOT everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve been both the creator of media lists and the reviewer of media lists and have participated in my fair share of eye rolling and imaginary database-throwing-out-the-window activities.
Here are a few tips from the PRBC to help you through the media list process:

Get to know the beats. This might seem like a no-brainer, but before you even get started with a media list, familiarize yourself with roles and responsibilities at media outlets. Say it with me folks “Google is our friend.” It will be worth the hour or so of research to know what an Editor-in-Chief does vs. a Reporter, a General Manager at a radio station vs. a News Director, an Executive Producer vs. a News Planning Editor. It’s a lot easier to make a list if you know what people do at a specific outlet. Of course every outlet is different, but having a general understanding of the positions and departments will lessen the chance of selecting the wrong person.

What’s the pitch? You’ve been told to find all of the people that cover music. That’s easy, right? Wrong. When you start up those list-making engines, you realize that there are folks that cover music business, classical music, events, pop music, digital music industry, etc. So your gut instinct is to just select all of them – the more, the merrier right? Wrong, again. It’s absolutely imperative to know what the actual pitch is before you start the research. Then before you add someone to that list, ask yourself “Would this person and/or outlet be interested in this pitch?”

Be your own editor. You put your list together, but now notice that you have about 15 producers from the same television station. When that happens, it is time to edit, edit, edit. The great thing about all of these software systems is that, for the most part, they give you details on what the producer covers, preferences, and so forth. What this really means if it says “Mrs. Editor is not a PR contact,” my best guess is that you’ll want to remove them from your list. This also is a great time to use those common sense skills. Make sure the outlet is relevant to your client and your client’s overall public relation objectives.

List from another List. Oh goody, you just inherited a previous media list from a colleague. You are certain that’s going to save you a lot of time! Maybe, maybe not. Think of it more as a starting off point. First, you can never assume the previous list maker did a good job. Second, keep in mind the turnover rates. Double check your contacts information as much as possible. The last thing you want to do is call a journalists right after he/she has been laid off.

Helpful Tools

Databases are helpful but they don’t necessarily tell you everything. It’s unrealistic to assume you have the ability to stay on top of every single media-related news item. However, there are a lot of great tools out there that can at least help you out a bit. One free tool that I really like is Cision’s Media Navigator as it lets you set up RSS feeds right into your inbox. If you are doing any type of regional pitching, which can be completely frustrating, my go to site is It will tell you all about a town/city, the nearest major city, and the media outlets that are nearby.

Now let’s hear from you. What are your media lists tips or horror stories? What tools do you find useful for staying on top of things?


Do you have a question for Dear Flack? If there’s something you’ve always wondered about, or wanted to ask about the public relations and social media world, e-mail We take privacy very seriously and all names, companies and locations will remain confidential.

Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.

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