How to build the perfect media list

Every startup founder wants to tell their story to the world. One of the best ways to do that is by getting your new product or company featured in media outlets with massive audiences, thereby generating brand equity, exposure and leads that will become your customers and advocates. The concept of PR is simple. Tell your story to the world.

Unfortunately, to be effective at building PR and buzz for your brand it is important to hone in on exactly what type of outlets and which editors are most likely to care about your story. Pitching to editors is no different than segmenting and isolating your target customers. If you pitch too broadly you will be pitching to people that aren't even remotely interested in what you are selling. Not only will this not yield results it will generate a negative perception of your brand at precisely the moment when you need to be building it up. If you pitch too narrowly, however, you run the risk of never getting the results you need. Effective pitching requires precision targeting but also a large enough audience that your efforts will yield results.

Tell the right story to enough of the right people

Targeting: Hone in, but not too narrowly

OK so we need to build a sizable list of editors that will be most inclined to read the pitch and take action on it. How do we decide who the right editors are? To do that we need to do a bit of reverse thinking. Instead of thinking which editors would be most inclined to cover your story you need to think about who your customer is and where they are hanging out. Is your customer 50 year old, empty nest mommies? Then maybe you should be targeting mom blogs, daytime talk shows and outlets that focus on parenthood as the topic. Is your customer 20-something male tech geeks? Well then maybe you should focus on tech outlets like Techcrunch and thenextweb. Start with your customer and then work backwards. Ask yourself:

  • Who is my customer?
  • What forms of media (tv, online, radio, etc.) are they most likely to consume?
  • What outlets within that media type are most aligned with my customer interests?

If you don't know exactly who your customer is (since you might be just starting out) then you'll need to make some educated guesses. But as a rule of thumb you should start doing customer research from day one and start building out your customer avatars for precisely the above reason. An easy way to do this is after someone purchases send them an email a few days later and ask them to complete a survey in exchange for a coupon or discount. In the survey ask them questions that help build a profile of who they are (demographic and psychographic information are both critical). A few questions I always recommend are:

  • What is your favorite website?
  • What is your favorite TV show?
  • What is your favorite magazine?

Start building up this data and you will know exactly where to send your pitches to.

Editors are audience gatekeepers

Now that we've got a fairly good handle on our customers, or at least making progress, let's return to the editors. An editors job is to create compelling content for their audience. That's it, period. 

The better the content is, the happier the audience is, the more likely they are to return and the more ad impressions to sell. So this is why so many pitches get shut down instantly with an inbox delete or unsubscribe. The content you are sending to the editor is not compelling enough for them to share with their audience. An editor may get 10 - 20 pitches in their inbox per day. If only 10 of them are relevant to their audience you can bet that other 10 are going into the trash. Editors most precious resource is their audience. Your content either threatens to hurt the audience or can be an amazing asset depending on the targeting.

Multiple personas means multiple lists

Many products appeal to a wide variety of customers and therefore attract multiple buyer types or personas. So, let's say you've created the next best skin cleansing device for women. This product might appeal to the following customer types:

  1. Women interested in beauty
  2. Men looking for gifts
  3. Women interested in health and wellness

Right there you might have 3 different buyer personas already. If you have multiple buyer personas then you have multiple media lists you need to build. One list would be outlets covering women's interests, another would be editors that write gift guides and a third might be healthy living writers. And for each of these lists you will probably have a few different media types you want to target as well (e.g. online vs. TV vs. radio vs. magazine, etc.). Remember, focus on who your audience is, what they care about and where they hang out.

Prune before sending

Once you've got your editor lists built it may be tempting to pop them into a CRM and blast off right away. However we recommend you do the following before blasting out your campaign:

1. De-dupe your list

Many editors write for more than one outlet so they may show up in your list more than once. Don't make the mistake of emailing an editor three times with the same pitch to three separate emails.

2. Remove the C-Suite people

Many database editors will include all members of an organization and therefore your list may end up having CEOs and Editors in Chief on them. While an editor in chief certainly has influence in their organization they are not typically the ones making content decisions on a day to day basis and therefore your email will most likely fall on deaf ears. Similarly, it can look bad to blast the same exact email to everyone in an organization. Pick a junior (e.g. editorial assistant or staff writer) and one senior-level person at each organization and be done.

3. Check for your dream list

Chances are there are editors or outlets that you are hoping to get coverage from. If you are using a database like CISION to create your lists based on certain criteria there are times when it won't always include everyone you want in the output. Keep a running list of 5 - 10 dream outlets and then spot check your list when it exports to ensure you're giving yourself a shot to hit it out of the park. It's easy to use the same tools to find one-off contacts and you can then just supplement your list with them.

Ready, Set, Fire

Don't overthink things. Understand who your customer is, what kind of content they consume and then build media lists to reach editors that cater to this audience. Here at PR Volt we recommend starting with an editor list of 1,000 people at a minimum. Anything less and you will not ensure getting the coverage you need simply due to having too small of a sample size. Ideal sweet spot is a list between 2,000 - 4,000 editors.

How do you build the list? There are plenty of tools out there that you can use to generate media lists but we recommend you get access to a media database such as Cision, Vocus or Gorkana so you can truly build a robust list of editors to pursue. Here at PR Volt CISION is our go-to media database. Here is an example of what you can do inside CISION:

Choose what type of media you want coverage for
Choose where in the world you are looking to get coverage
Choose the topics that your editors are interested in

Rule of thumb: be thoughtful about what topics and interests you select. Editors who write about the “fashion industry” don’t necessarily review “beauty and grooming” products and “health care” writers don’t necessarily cover “health and medicine.” Refine to ensure you’re creating lists that are relevant to your product and content.

Truth be told your media lists may not be perfect the first time you send them out but you'll be able to see where you are getting the best response. For example, you may see geographic trends that indicate your pitching gets the highest response in urban DMAs; or you may discover that one of your personas (defined by the interests chosen in your database) is getting a much better response than others. All of these are learnings that can be applied to future campaigns where your lists will become more refined and better targeted.

Last but not least...

We'll get into how to craft the perfect pitch in a future blog post, but one thing we should mention here is that you never want to abuse any media list you create. Rather, you want to nurture and learn from that list. Pitch frequency is an important thing to watch out for because if you start spamming your editors your emails may end up in their SPAM folder rather than in their inbox where you want it. You worked hard to create the perfect list so don't go off and spoil all that hard work by hitting your audience with emails every day. You'll need to discover the right cadence for you, but as a general rule monthly to bi-weekly pitching is a good place to start.