How to declutter your PR agency media list

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How to declutter your PR agency media list

A guide to curating your agency's media list and streamlining it with a sharp focus on the news outlets that matter and eliminating those that are taking up headspace

A PR agency is judged by its contacts.  Who it knows and where it can get coverage.

Most agencies subscribe to big media databases like Vuelio and Gorkana.  This gives them access to literally thousands of journalists and media outlets.  For every press release it distributes, the agency will build a media list and agree a distribution strategy with the client.  

This is a step by step guide to keeping your media lists in tip top shape.  Cutting out the dead wood and letting the true opportunities shine.

This blog is for anyone in an agency or in-house PR team who has ever had to build a media list.

Look away now if you would rather work with a cast of thousands and spam your press release to random news desks and hope that someone will run the story.

Make one big list first

We did this exercise very recently. We had dozens of lists scattered across client files and multiplying like viruses.

We centralised into one big list on Google Sheets.

The prompt for doing this was going into first lockdown in March 2020 and working in a distributed team for the first time.

We needed a way to work together - to avoid duplication of effort and to avoid confusion over who was speaking to who. We had an experienced team with strong relationships with the media - we needed to optimise this strength and channel it - and not to work in silos.

We created tabs and divided the list into sectors. Some clients shared sectors. Already we could see efficiencies and commonalities.

The A-list and the Z-list

Now we had one giant list. And it was giant. It had 2808 contacts on it. There were titles on here that had never been approached. Why were they still there? What was the point of them? We needed to investigate each one and decide if it should still be there.

And so we went through the process of looking at every contact. And asking ourselves. If this outlet has never published a story for us - why are we still sending them press releases? Why are they taking up space on our screen?

Ask the client

What are your client's most important publications? What do they read every day? What newsletters do they subscribe to and receive every day. The publication might not have a huge circulation but if it is read by every person in their industry - it needs to be on your list.

More importantly what do your client's customers read? By having a clear picture of what your audience is reading you will be able to create a super-tight media list.


Being realistic about your targets will keep you sane. Every media outlet has a news threshold - this can change on a daily basis depending on the rest of the news that day. But as a rule you should have a feeling for what every journalist or media outlet is looking for and what is needed to get your story over the news threshold.

So how do you know what that threshold is? How does a journalist decide if a story is for them? Every journalist when they open your email or read the header will assess the story against a set of editorial values: size, scale, scope, conflict and negativity, positivity, impact, timeliness, current trends, proximity, unexpectedness, predictability, novelty, prominence, personalisation, human interest, sensationalism.

Deploy the list

Having got rid of all the dead wood cluttering up your list you can focus on the targets that matter and make your efforts count. The first distribution you do, you will see how much clearer your mind is. You will feel in control of the distribution and able to prioritise who you send the story to first and when you follow up.

It will take you time to declutter your list.

Time is a precious commodity in any PR agency. There is never enough of it to do everything you want to.  We are driven by ever changing deadlines, constantly moving between jobs as priorities shift up and down. You need a laser sharp focus on the things that matter and doing the work that gets results.

Time to think is particularly difficult when you are putting out little fires everywhere.  So if you invest some time now in getting your media list into shape and being able to control it, that housekeeping will save time in the long run and you will get better results for your clients.

To find out more about managing your media list as a central resource in PingGo read here.

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