How to build a media list and target journalists properly

By Aaron Rudman-Hawkins
October 8, 2020

Sending a digital PR campaign to a relevant media list (compared with one that has been roughly pulled together) can be the difference between securing a treasure trove of links, and a response rate of 0!

A relevant media list is the bread and butter of any digital PR campaign and is essentially the platform you’re giving your campaign to ensure it is spotlighted to your intended audience. This means that putting the time into researching your contacts, finding out about what they have recently written about, and ensuring they’re positioned on the right media desks for your story, is extremely important for campaign success

There’s a tendency in the SEO world (versus traditional PR) to send campaigns out to massive media lists of 500+ journalists a time. This is not a good approach; it’s VERY unlikely that each of those 500 writers are 100% relevant to your pitch. 

Here are my top five tips for building the best media list possible:

#1 Research, research, and research some more

Finding the best person to approach starts with the magazines, newspapers and online titles that you and your client’s audience might be engaging with. Read these articles and form an understanding of what type of content the title is publishing; are they opinion pieces? Thought leaderships? Interviews? Data heavy news? Finding this out in the early stages will help you to consider whether the publication is even right first for your story and pitch, let alone the contacts. 

Once you establish what type of publications and target titles are relevant, you can then delve into which particular journalists are right within that team for your news or pitch.

#2 Identify the key journalists who are completely relevant to your pitch

Journalists are notoriously under pressure, they have less time to do background research and gather the information themselves, so essentially if your client’s story is newsworthy, attention grabbing and informative, your campaign will be very well received in the right hands. But, to ensure you’re targeting the relevant contacts you can start with the below:

  • Use tools such as MuckRack, or Roxhill’s (media database) journalist search, to find out the latest articles your target journalist has been writing about. Journalists do move titles or go freelance from time to time so it is worth regularly checking for each campaign to see whether they are still interested in that topic
  • Do engage with these journalists on social media. Twitter is one of the best platforms for natural interaction. Find out from their bio their current job title and scan their feed for articles they have written recently, news they have actively been engaging with, or content they are looking for on #JournoRequest. To avoid looking like a stalker, ensure to follow them and if the opportunity provides itself, comment and share their musings to offer your support. It helps them understand who you are too, making your name stand out in their inbox.
    Quick hack if you don’t have a media database: if you find that they regularly write about topics your clients are relevant to, you can quickly do a search to source their email address by copying and pasting their Twitter handle in the search bar accompanied by + email. This will show you whether they have provided their contact details over Twitter before
  • Using Twitter again, use the hashtags #JournoRequest, #PRRequest and #HARO to find out what journalists these topics are asking for on request. Do make sure to let them know you have responded to their request if they’re the right person for your campaign, this will help you build relationships too
  • You can source relevant journalists by using Google search to type in keywords associated with your campaign, say ‘Cocktails’ and ‘Recipes’. Make sure to go ‘Tools’ and select the ‘Any Time’ option and change to ‘Past Month’ to begin with so you can find recent results first. If you click on the news results you can often find the name of the author at the beginning or end of the story. You can either source their contact details from the website, conduct a separate Google search or invest in a media database such as Vuelio, Cision, Response Source or Roxhill to find their email address. 

#3 Check the story hasn’t already been covered 

If the journalist you want to target has already covered your competitor and highlights key points similar to your campaign, then hold off and pitch to another title or another time. You want to differentiate yourself from the competition and provide the journalist with a unique story, not a similar product or industry trend they have recently talked about. 

#4 Do not create a list with hundreds of journalists or rely on old lists

Of course it is hard to put an exact figure as it really does “depend” on the nature of each campaign and how niche or open it is for readers. But at The Evergreen Agency, as a rule of thumb, we avoid exceeding a media contact list of more than 70 journalists. If you have hundreds of media contacts in your list, this would suggest you are mistargeting and spamming the inbox of journalists that are irrelevant to your campaign. 

All it takes is one mistargeted email to a very busy journalist that can leave you being blacklisted from their book of contacts, or worse, screenshotted and exposed on social media. Similarly, having too many journalists at the same title is a common mistake. These journalists (in normal times) sit together at the same desk,  or are in regular communication. One pitch to all 5 beauty writers at Cosmopolitan is sure to get you noticed, but not for the right reasons.

Additionally, your media list should not be a numbers game. Quality is better than quantity; and this approach will yield more targeted results that your client will be proud of.

#5 Update, update and update some more

As mentioned earlier, journalists are accustomed to moving jobs, so it isn’t advised to keep churning out the same media list for similar campaigns month on month in case they have moved on. Check that your list is current and conduct the above searches as a housekeeping task for each campaign, to find new contacts you can add into your media list. Keeping an eye on relevant newsletters such as Diary Directory that will keep you informed about the movements of media professionals will help you to keep abreast of editorial changes.


In Susie Bearne’s ‘Lesson from a Journalist: How to Secure Press Coverage’ webinar, she said that editors on national news desks can receive up to 10,000 emails a day! So our emails need to stand out to the right people. As digital PRs, link builders, or all round digital marketers, we need to be selective in our approach. After all, not only will it get better campaign results, it helps build relationships with key journalists who cover your brand, or clients’ sectors. 

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