One of the first tasks I learned when I started my career in public relations was how to create a media list. My boss sat me down with a tower of dark green media directories and told me to find newspapers in these books that were related to our client. He told me to call the newsroom to confirm the journalists’ names and fax numbers – and ask if there was an email address, because that was a new thing that hadn’t made its way into media directories yet.

Technology has changed, but the process to create a quality media list remains the same:

  • do your research,
  • find targeted information, and
  • keep your list up-to-date.

Creating a media list wasn’t something I learned in my PR classes in college, yet it has become an important day-to-day skill.

A carefully constructed media list is a public relations professional’s best tool for distributing information to the media, whether as part of well-planned campaign launch or getting breaking news out fast. In fact, nonprofits may develop several media lists over time. For example, you can have one list for general organization updates and industry announcements, as well as specific, targeted lists for special initiatives.

Here’s how to create a media list to distribute your nonprofit organization’s news:


Find your audience

Identify media outlets that are important to your organization’s and campaign’s goals. Ask yourself who you are trying to reach and research media that your audience is tuning in to. For example: TV, radio, newspapers, industry and association publications, professional journals, podcasts and websites/blogs.


Build and organize a spreadsheet to house your list

Construct the layout of your media list in a spreadsheet, like Microsoft Excel, so you can make sure to gather complete information while researching your media contacts. For example, enter the name of each media listing as a new row. Then create a column for each part of the contact’s details including:

  • media name
  • contact first name
  • contact last name
  • title
  • phone number
  • email address
  • Twitter handle
  • LinkedIn profile

Also include a space to link to their latest relevant news story and a column for notes to record your history with the contact (if they are interested in your story, if they’ve told you their preferred method for contact, if they’ve asked to not be contacted, etc.)

A sample media list spreadsheet ready to be populated with information

A sample media list spreadsheet ready to be populated with information

Categorize your selected media by outlet type. For example, group all of your TV media outlets together. If your list is large enough, you may want to give each media outlet type its own tab in the spreadsheet. You can make one tab just for TV, another tab just for newspapers, etc.

Once the layout of the media list is done and you know what information you are looking for, you can research the contacts to add to your media list.


Research media contacts and collect important information

Research media contacts who have written about topics similar to the information you will send them. For example, on a newspaper’s website you can use the search bar to enter a common phrase associated with your topic. This may pull up news stories and columns by writers who have written about this topic. Additionally, you may be able to find a list of journalists and their beats by visiting the newspaper’s “Contact us” or “About us” pages.

For each newspaper, TV station, radio, etc. that you want to reach out to, obtain contact details for each column you created in your media list.

Make a note of the contact’s recent works (news articles, blog posts, videos, etc.) related to your topic. Understanding their bodies of work will help you write a custom email (“pitch”) that will increase your chances of catching their attention.


Monitor and update your list

A media list is a living creature. As the contacts on your list get new jobs, promotions and/or cover different beats, your media list will change. Make sure to reflect those changes in your media list so you don’t lose a valuable PR opportunity by sending your organization’s information to an outdated media list.

This may not be as much of an issue for media lists that are created for specific campaigns and will be used for a short amount of time, but plan to go through any long-term, general use media lists every six months to make sure your contacts’ information is still accurate.

Even if you use a media directory service that automates the media list creation process, chances are you will still have to go through the list and confirm contact information and review their bodies of work. Some tasks cannot easily be handed over to technology. With well-honed research skills and a targeted media list, a nonprofit public relations professional can tackle anything that comes their way!


How do you develop your media lists? Please share your research tactics with us in the comments section.


Linda Alberts

Linda Alberts

public relations coordinator at National Alliance for Youth Sports
Linda Alberts is a communications professional, with a focus in public relations. She is currently the public relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Youth Sports headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla. In addition to her work in youth sports, Linda enjoys reading, baking, gardening.
Linda Alberts
Linda Alberts