I still use a lot of paper.

I have boxes and boxes of clips and web pages that I think may be useful in the future. This can include anything from an analyst statistic on the number of devices connected to the internet per second (100 by the way) to a comment in a supermarket magazine (yes, even the tacky ones) that gives a good quote on a given topic.

The problem with this is I usually forget which box things are in and then it takes me a bit longer to find things. Anyway, while searching for stat on the number of new internet connections per second I came across a blog from Rock the Status Quo, on the importance of avoiding shortcuts in PR and creating media lists.

In particular, it highlights that “many public relations professionals build their lists wrong, even at the agency level.

“Done correctly, this takes several days and dozens of hours. There aren’t any shortcuts, but THERE ARE ways to build them in a way that brings better results.”

A short media list with the key people will do far more than a 10,000 strong list

While giving some good advice among its 25 top tips, the piece reminded me there’s precious little advice out there about building international media lists and maintaining relations with international journalists.

So, I thought I’d put together a quick summary:

Media database or Google:

It’s unlikely that you’ll have people on the ground in every country that you want to reach, especially if you’re a start-up. And, even if you do, most trade magazines aren’t found on the super-market magazine racks so odds are you’ll need to do some additional research.

Media databases (eg Cision etc) can be incredibly handy. If you want to know what magazines cover a given topic you can easily run a keyword search and bring up 100, in some cases 1,000, titles. If you want to know what journalists write there, once again, it will have a (usually) very complete list.

Searches are quick and easy. You’ll find everyone you could possibly need. It will (depending on the database) even bring up bloggers and politicians.

Google, on the other hand will bring up fewer results. But these may be more useful. Especially if you’re also looking for analyst contacts too.

One of my favourite quotes about marketing comes from the early 1900s and is from (or attributed to, at least) the department store owner and advertising (ahem) pioneer, John Wannamaker:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

PR evaluation graph

PR evaluation graph mapping web hits (blue) to articles (red) and releases (yellow).

I’d agree with this statement whole-heartedly but Google Analytics is helping to change this and our research into the effects of coverage on web traffic suggest that there will only be a handful of titles that are influential. A standard search engine is usually very effective in finding these 4-5 titles per country that will best drive traffic to your site be it by referral or by natural search.

You may not be spending money for PR led coverage, but you will be spending time, so make sure that half your time isn’t wasted.


Finding the correct contact:

Back in 2007 the editor in chief of Wired’s US magazine, Chris Anderson, named and shamed a list of over 400 people that had sent PR spam to him in the past month. As he put it:

Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.

Influential magazines can be anything from 1 man bands (especially in vertical sectors) to massive organisations with hundreds of staff writers (eg the NY Times or the Daily Telegraph). Clearly your news isn’t going to be relevant to the readers of all of them, especially when it isn’t uncommon for them to receive 300+ PR emails per day, and – as the Wired story highlights – the editor’s job is not (as I’ve actually heard some people in this industry say) a filter.

Once again, assuming that you don’t have access to every publication in every country (and not all publications print a list of staff members anyway), check the editor list (Electronic Design and Gartner are both particularly good for this) read the sites, search for relevant terms and see what names come up time and again … and the google their name to double check, and… failing this… email the editor to ask that very question.

In the comments section of the Wired editor’s blog, Chris Anderson writes: “send me a personal email and I’ll tell you the right people to contact”. I’d echo  this from my own experience as a journalist. I was really happy when a PR person took the time to be (or appear) as if it’s not a mass mail out. I get grumpy when it’s clearly a list – I can even remember the worst one, a press release on Client X winning a tastiest orange Juice review, sent by a major London based PR firm … I was writing for Mobile Industry Review and the green technology title Greenbang.


And once you’ve done this work…

As the Rock the Status Quo piece states: “Bad pitching burns bridges.”

Remember journalists are human, they’re busy and they’re not paid to promote you – that’s (usually) true even if you advertise with them. And bloggers aren’t always paid, full stop. This may seem obvious, but past conversations with even those from within the PR industry, suggests it’s not as obvious as you’d hope.

Journalists know you’ll have a list, but make sure they’re happy to be on it. A quick email to check explaining who you are, what you make and what sort of things you’d like to contact them about will suffice.

And when you send releases, try to send translated copy, this shouldn’t just be for Germany / France etc but also include the conversion to US or UK spellings for these markets.

So, in summary, I’ll go back to the quote from Rock the Status Quo. “Many public relations professionals build their lists wrong… Done correctly, this

[process] takes several days and dozens of hours. There aren’t any shortcuts.” But doing it well will reap many more rewards.