Building an Effective Media List and Outreach Strategy

Knowing how to curate a carefully-researched and well-organised media list is an important aspect of operating in PR, whether as an Account Lead or Account Executive. That’s because no matter the calibre of a campaign, it’ll fall flat unless it’s put in front of relevant and responsive media contacts. But with the media landscape having changed considerably over the last year, and new databases being released on a regular basis, it can be difficult to know where to start when asked to create a solid media list. 

That’s where I come in – I’ve spent the best part of my professional career in PR building media lists across a variety of markets, so if there’s a mistake you can make, I’ve made it, and if something works, I probably already know about it. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my time navigating multiple journalist databases and putting together a kickass media list.

How to Build a Solid Media List

This subheading (H2) might be a little misleading, as first I want to touch on what’s important to know before you get to the media list stage in order to further streamline that process. Gone are the days when somebody could give you an elevator-pitch-level campaign summary and tell you to go away and pull together target outlets in an hour – everything’s much more tailored now, so it’s essential that every niche touched on within a campaign is accounted for in the end media list. 

That includes very granular specialisms within niches. When working on a campaign, it’s recommended that you keep clear notes on what media targets hold the most relevance and communicate this effectively to everyone working on the account. 

For example, if your campaign is about finance, is it more about personal finance (e.g. loans, consumer credit) or about financial markets? Each news desk (such as Money at the Daily Express) will have reporters that work in very specific sub-sectors (such as the How to Get Rich Reporter) and it’s vital that you select the right one, in order to avoid strongly worded emails, indirect Tweets, and stalling coverage. 

It’s also essential to have clarified KPIs, as these often dictate the time you have available to spend putting together supporting documentation (press releases, media lists, outreach strategies) and for outreach itself. In fact – especially if you’re a PR Lead or Account Lead – it’s important to to keep track of available and spent time on any outreach project, as this will help dictate how many additional press releases you can create to target wider media sectors. When you have all that information locked and loaded, it’s time to start creating a top-notch media list.

Media Databases: What Works and What Doesn’t 

In PR, we love a fancy media database. Whether you’re a Gorkana groupie, a BuzzStream buff or a Roxhill raver, these services are an invaluable tool in any PR’s arsenal. But how are they best used to build a very targeted media list? 

My personal favourite is Roxhill so I’ll be using that as an example, but almost every media database offers the same features so my advice can be applied to most. In my opinion, the most valuable aspect of Roxhill is the fact that it allows you to search for keywords and filter those results by type of outlet (national, regional, blog) and then by sector. 

This filter-layering is indispensable when looking for relevant media contacts that cover specific stories, persons or topics. In the above example, I’ve searched for Harry Styles – perhaps looking to newsjack on his latest film role – and filtered those results by nationals, and filtered those by journalists writing about celebrities and gossip, to make sure that I’m not accidentally targeting those writing in fashion with a film-based campaign. If you need to pull together contacts in a pinch for a very reactive or newsjacking-driven press release, I’d recommend this approach as your first port of call.

Other useful aspects of media databases that I’d recommend – specifically for building a list of contacts – is to search specific target outlets (perhaps those identified in a link gap) – and then inspect the contacts listed under target news desks (e.g. Lifestyle Reporters) to see which journalists most recently covered articles that bare the closest resemblance to your campaign. This is most useful when the job titles of journalists don’t make it clear what they cover and you’re targeting a particularly populated news desk. It’s also why I like Roxhill the most, because you can click on a contact and see the below breakdown:

This shows the niches they most often write in, their last few articles and their post date – so you can check the journalist is still active – and their close colleagues, so you know who else to target should the first contact absolutely ignore your outreach emails. 

However, this is where we touch on the ‘what doesn’t work’ aspect of media databases. No database, no matter how hard they try, is completely up to date. This is particularly true of Gorkana, I’ve found, which often results in sending stories to journalists that no longer write on that topic and then receiving a delightful-and-not-at-all-soul crushing email in return. 

Because of that, I’d recommend combining multiple media list building methods in order to give yourself the best chance of success.

This is something that’s often overlooked in PR as it reads more like an SEO responsibility, but it’s an increasingly important way to identify the media targets that are most likely to respond well to your client’s campaign. This involves delving into the backlink profile of your client’s competitors – probably pulled from Semrush and ahrefs – and cross-referencing them with your client’s backlinks, in order to identify the outlets that have linked to your competitors but haven’t yet linked to you. 

The idea is that your client’s competitors will be producing similar content pushing similar products, and so they should be a near-sure thing for the content you’ve produced. This is particularly handy for identifying target outlets and sectors that may not have crossed your mind, and is often something you can pull together early in the campaign creation process to have to hand later. At Blueclaw, we built an awesome link gap analysis tool which pulls all that information together for us automatically, and produces the following level of detail:

I’d recommend taking note of the DA, citation flow and trust flow of each target domain identified in your analysis, in order to gauge which best suit your KPIs and which are most likely to include a valuable link back.

However, it’s still important to follow the above recommendations when putting that information into practice. The more granular you can go when identifying the best contacts at each target domain the easier your job will be, so you’ll still need to pay close attention to their news desks, job titles, writing niches and post frequency. 

And, finally, I’d also make sure that you take note of at least two of the most relevant contacts for each domain, and check that the outlets are still relevant to your campaign topic, as backlink profiles don’t take into account the current subjects being covered by that domain.

The Magic of Manual Newsjacking

That’s where the third prong of media list building comes into play. With this approach you don’t have to worry about accidentally targeting an outlet that no longer covers your campaign subject, or sending it to a journalist who has been taken off their regular beat, because you’re compiling the most up-to-date information possible.

However, the main thing to bear in mind with manual newsjacking is that it’s time consuming, so ensure you can delegate enough time to get a decent list of contacts (say minimum 30) rather than just a handful.

Manual newsjacking involves searching a specific topic and then filtering the results by a set time period – I tend to go for a week – and then clicking on each article to pull the journalist’s name out, and then populating their contact details either directly from the article or from your media database of choice. See the below example:

This can also be useful for identifying the media outlets that are likely to result in syndication, which are identifiable because they use the same headline across multiple domains. This can be helpful if your KPI involves brand awareness as well as link equity, but it’s important to remember that syndication doesn’t hold as much SEO value as standalone links due to the repetition of content. 

Again, I’d make sure to cross-reference the information you pull from manual newsjacking with those held in media databases, in order to confirm that the journalist hasn’t just written an article that’s completely beyond their usual remit or has been miscredited. Generally speaking, I’d recommend this approach as the primary media list building methodology when sending out small reactive press releases that mention a specific celebrity in the headline, as opposed to meatier topics like data security or financial reports. 

This is  because outlets often look to post multiple stories on the same celebrity in a row in order to capitalise on sudden interest (e.g. a film release), and so your campaign will be seen as a useful addition, rather than repetitive content that you’re sending to an outlet that’s just ticked that topic off their editorial calendar. And that leads us nicely onto the topic of timing, and how you can ensure your outreach strategy is solid from the get go.

Solidifying your Outreach Strategy 

So, you have a chunky spreadsheet with relevant media contacts segmented by sector – what do you do now? One of the most important things to consider when creating a media list is which sectors and specific contacts are the most valuable – i.e., those that are most likely to cover your campaign – and what additional content you need to create in order to target them. As a PR Lead, this is where you’d delegate work to ensure that you’re not overwhelming a specific sector in your media list with press release after press release that covers the same research. 

I’d recommend creating a timeline of outreach, that covers the press release(s) you’ll send out, when they’ll be outreached, and to which parts of your media list. I’d also take note of when your follow-ups are going out and how many contacts are within each target list, as we know that media databases like to warn us about email limits.

And, if you’d find it useful, I’d also recommend keeping track of which press releases have seen the most success, as this will help with deciding what additional sectors to target or what’s worth resending. My example outreach timeline for a Harry Styles story would look something like this:


Ultimately, the key to any successful PR campaign is to keep target markets and outreach sectors at the forefront of the creative process, and then to allow adequate time to curate a tailored media list and to create additional press releases required during outreach.

Use the tools at your disposal, but don’t be afraid to go a bit rogue – some people swear by Twitter, while others prefer to call journalists directly to see if they’d be interested before they even stick them in a media list. But whatever approach you go down, just remember that no success is guaranteed and that we’re all just doing our best to smash those KPIs. 

Building a solid media list and outreach strategy isn’t for everyone, but when done correctly, it can truly produce astounding results. Get in touch today to find out more about how the experts do it, or to talk about how we can help take your backlink profile to the next level.

Written by

Louise Gilligan

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