Media Contacts Database: 5 Tips on Creating a Media Contact List for Press Releases

In the PR world, there’s one thing that makes all PR pros shiver—the media contacts database. It affects the whole industry—those who have their database neatly organized struggle to keep it that way, those who work in teams find it hard to manage and update it, and, finally, those who just started building it think it’s near to impossible to engage with journalists for the first time.

In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know to create a media contact list by yourself or if it’s worth buying an external media contacts database.

If you’re looking to save some time, Prowly’s media database is completely free for 7 days with full search access so you can see if it’s for you.


What is a media contacts list?

A media list, or a media contacts database, is one of the most important tools available to PR specialists. Carefully prepared, it can determine the success of a campaign and allows you to build relationships that will last for many years.

Simply put, it is a list of contact details of editors, journalists, bloggers, influencers and media outlets with whom you cooperate on a daily basis and to whom you send your press releases from time to time.

Obviously, when you have a great piece of news, you’re excited to share it with the whole world. It’s hard to do it using only your social media.

Instead, you’ll need a database that includes not only the names and email addresses of the media representatives interested in this topic but also links to their social media channels or their latest articles.

What you also might find useful is the possibility of searching new contacts and filtering them by interests or influence score, which should hint us whether a given influencer/journalist has recently been active and popular among its audience.

After all, you want the widest possible audience and the best possible fit.

All in all, media lists are mainly about finding the right contacts and getting in touch with them to build a relation. After all, relations are your daily bread, aren’t they?

Journalists vs media influencers

It is not without reason that journalists are said to be opinion leaders. They set news in motion, shape public opinion and for many years they have been the main source of information while enjoying quite a lot of public trust.

That is why PR specialists seek their attention and treat them as intermediaries who help them to reach the final recipients with their message.

Today, this relationship looks a little different. Every minute we are bombarded with thousands of stories, we defend ourselves against them with Ad Block, and because we are literally being flooded with fake news, we tend to trust less in what we find on the Internet.

At the same time, we are all influencers now. What does this mean for you as a PR pro? The evolution of communication from one-to-one to one-to-many. You no longer have to stay in contact with journalists only. YouTubers, Instagrammers, bloggers… They’re all media now, too. And it is much easier for them to gain the trust of their audiences and influence the purchasing decisions of their followers.

More importantly, brands more and more often create their own content and the role of a PR specialist is still to disseminate it as widely as possible, but not always with the help of a journalist.

The latest Holmes Report shows this trend quite clearly—the budgets of PR agencies will shift from earned to owned and shared media over the next few years. “The PR industry will have to adapt to a world in which the lines between paid, earned, owned and shared media are not only blurring, but largely irrelevant in the minds of consumers,” says Paul Holmes, founder of The Holmes Report and a partner in The Global Communications Report, a survey of 1,000 public relations leaders and students worldwide.

This change is progressing at a higher pace in business. This means that your media lists will more and more often contain the contact details of key influencers from a given segment: celebrities, macro- or micro-influencers, who have recently inspired most trust.

Source: Holmes Report

Summing up, the main difference between the two groups is that journalists can be influencers, but not all influencers are journalists.

Why do you need a media list?

A media contacts database will be useful mainly for building relationships. You can use it for:

  • Building and implementing media relations strategies
  • Creating news, articles, and analyses
  • Profiling and sending out targeted messages
  • Maintaining contacts with journalists that are most active in a given segment
  • Organizing press conferences, briefings, and events
  • Quickly reaching your audience with a message in a crisis situation
  • Getting media sponsors

We have written several pieces on how to effectively do media relations and build lasting relations with influencers:

Top Tips on How to Build and Foster Relationships with Journalists

The Art of Doing Media Relations: A Short Guide for Junior Practitioners

Six Tips for Pitching Journalists and Bloggers

A Beginner’s Guide to Building Relationships with Influencers

What should your media contacts database include?

Let’s be honest, the media list is usually an extensive excel sheet with a dozen or so columns, hundreds of lines, and cells in various colors. Taking into account everything that should be included in it and how often journalists change editorial offices, it’s probably hard to keep order in such a document. Besides, Excel files are a thing of the past—PR is becoming increasingly bold in trying out new technologies that support it in everyday tasks.

Here are some basic data that a media contact should include in your database:

  • the name of the publishing house;
  • the title of the medium;
  • its market segment, e.g. business media, IT, parenting, etc..;
  • type of medium: press, radio, TV, Internet;
  • coverage: local, regional and national media;
  • frequency of publication: daily, weekly, monthly, etc.;
  • name and surname of the journalist;
  • his/her position;
  • a direct landline phone, or preferably mobile phone;
  • email address;
  • and a traditional postal address;
  • and their social media accounts;
  • plus an important section where you can save some information you should remember about (e.g. form of addressing the journalist): by “Mr. / Mrs.” or just by first name, information about closing dates, deadlines for sending press materials or other important preferences)

How does it work? How to search for contacts within a media contact list?

Not all media databases (especially if you’re using a free list) are the same. Modern tools allow you to get relevant media contacts, organize them in an easy-to-use CRM and pitch effectively with personalization and analytics.

How does it work?

Most often as an add-on to your PR CRM, so that your contacts are linked to your other PR activities, such as press office management and news distribution.

You can filter your contacts by country/topic or editorial name (there are more options available), choose those that meet your expectations, mark them accordingly and add them to your database in the tool you use. And then you can send bulk mailings.

Most of these applications also offer the possibility to import your own database to your account. In Prowly, just select a file with a media list and assign data to individual columns (e.g. name and surname, editorial office, email address, phone), so you can use your own contacts from the level of the app in no time.

What makes these more advanced solutions special is:

  • a large and global database of contacts, allowing you to reach a wider audience;
  • suggestions for new contacts generated by the system based on similar criteria, which you have followed so far;
  • flexibility and adaptability of the package to your needs (monthly or annual payment)
  • the possibility to test the media database before buying it, so that you’re not buying a pig in a poke;
  • personalization: with Prowly, you can assign a personalized greeting to each contact, which will automatically start each email. A simple “Hey Darek” or “Dear Bravo” will always do a better job than a standard “To whom it may concern.” Make sure that the people with whom you have a close relationship always get a proper welcome.

Is it better to buy a media list online or create your own media contact list?

PR specialists and communication experts have basically one basic objective: to reach as wide an audience and as precisely as possible with their messages to promote the image of the brands for which they are responsible and to actually affect the attitudes of these brands’ customers.

Typically, a PR specialist manages his or her own media contacts database—thanks to which they have established and nurtured relations with most of them so that they can reach them more effectively with their message. It happens, however, that they have to buy such a database. When and why?

  • when they don’t know anyone in a given industry, and the agency has just acquired such a client, e.g. in a tender, and needs to send a bulk mailing or establish relations with journalists from a new segment;
  • when they have to reach the end user with their message, bypassing the media as intermediaries and are looking for influencers who can extend his reach;
  • when they want to get involved in an influencer campaign and don’t know who is handling which topic;
  • when the current media list is insufficient and they want to expand it with similar criteria (industry, interests);
  • when the company is just starting with PR activities and has no network of contacts at all;
  • when the company starts communication activity in a new foreign market and wants to establish relations with key journalists and influencers there.

The advantage of managing your media database in a PR CRM is that it’s undoubtedly easier to maintain order in it, update contacts and that there are unlimited possibilities of expanding your database by adding new contacts. After all, you never know when your project or customer will change. It is worth having your finger on the pulse and, for a small additional fee, keeping all your contacts in the cloud, which all your co-workers will be able to access.

How often should I update my media contact list?

How often do you update your media base? Most of your colleagues do it alarmingly rarely—according to some studies, only 54% of PR specialists update their contact databases regularly, another 20% of respondents do it once a quarter, 12% once a year, and every tenth respondent—once a month.

Remember that only by updating your database regularly you’ll be able to ensure that your PR materials reach the right people. With a media contacts database integrated with CRM, you don’t have this problem. The system analyzes your contacts on an ongoing basis (day after day) and keeps them updated. Thanks to this, you reduce the risk of your emails resulting in low open rates and minimize the bounce rate, and you can be sure that your work doesn’t go to waste. You also don’t “blindly” add new contacts to your database—at every stage of the search, you can check what is the valid email address of a given journalist/influencer and which subject he or she has covered recently.

How to create an effective media list – 5 tips

How can you do PR without your media contacts? Because there’s pressure to have the most extensive and the best media contact database of all (we do want our press releases to reach the whole world, don’t we), there are some temptations sneaking up on us, waiting to push us into the media list hell.

1.) Choose the right media database provider

“I have no time; I’ll just buy or find a free media list database.”

OK, so imagine this: you just started working with a new client. The plan is to impress, but the industry is completely new to you. You consider buying a media database – but you also know, that it is stepping on thin ice.

Well, that’s true, if you don’t pick the provider (such as Prowly, Muck Rack or Cision) wisely. In order to be sure, that the media contacts list is spotless, updated and relatable you should follow a few important steps.

First, make sure that you narrow down your needs. Try to pick a few keywords, that you are mainly interested in. Don’t search for contacts from all around the world – it will be hard to build a relationship with such a huge group of journalists. Start with a local media contact list—maybe start with just one country or a few states that are close to you. You can always extend your journalist database as you grow.

Next, check the contacts. Are they updated? Can you check what those journalists wrote recently? That’s a good starting point. And last but not least, before you send that first press release to try to introduce yourself or even ask what topics are they interested in. In the end, PR is all about the relations, and how else to build it, right?

2.) Keep your PR media list organized

“Dealing with multiple media databases? No worries, I know how to find my contacts!”

The truth is that although you feel like you have control over your creative mess, you might get easily lost in the multitude of files and folders. Keeping your media contacts information in various places makes it hard to manage and even harder to update your list(s)—chances are you will end up having the same contact in a number of files and won’t even know which one is most recent. It’s difficult to manage multiple media contacts databases if you work alone, but if you’re part of a PR department, it gets nearly impossible to manage all those files. Instead, think about getting a CRM for public relations and storing your media contacts in one place—it’s a better, more efficient, and definitely a much safer solution.

Stay organized with segments & filters

3.) Target your pitch to relevant journalists

“Don’t know which journalists might be interested so I’ll send it to all of them”

It’s a common problem—if the journalists you keep in touch with aren’t properly tagged, it might be hard for you to know who to send your newest releases to. And sending them to everyone on your list may be a small sin when done once but can affect your open rate in the long run if done repeatedly. Journalists will start perceiving you as a spammer and won’t even bother to read another email sent from your company’s address. Solution? Tag and group your contacts to reach out to only those who are really interested using a PR CRM.

Marta Ostrowska

Marta Ostrowska – PR Specialist at MakoLab:

“Finally! My media database is done already and I don’t need to deal with it anymore.” There’s nothing further from the truth! We create and update media databases to store all contact information of journalists that we know and who we think will be interested in receiving news on our company and/or the entire industry. There is no need to send every single pitch to everyone who is on our contacts list. For this reason, it’s worth to group your media contacts thematically, for instance, by creating a local media group, business media group, marketing media group, lifestyle media group, but also sort them according to name—it occurs that we might be getting in touch with several people representing one media title but each of these people is interested in a different topic—some reporters cover the financial industry or write about new technologies, while others may focus on new hires. Before we start distributing a fresh press release, we need to develop a list of journalists who will be interested in our topic. It forces us to devote more time to the whole process but releasing our news only to a carefully selected group of contacts is a perfect start to scoring more publications in the media. It also positively influences the quality of the pitches and detailed mailing statistics.

Creating a media contacts database is a never-ending story. One day we need to add new contacts, the next day it turns out that someone has quit their job or changed their phone number. Moreover, some people prefer receiving dedicated articles instead of getting widely distributed press news. All this information is very important and worth updating systematically. After all, only a well-organized media database is the keystone to building a good relationship between PR managers and journalists.

4.) Keep your media contacts database up-to-date

“I got 99 contacts but updated ain’t one”

Some people wrongly think that the bigger their pr contacts database the better. And it doesn’t matter that some of those contacts were added so long ago that half of these people have already retired. The truth is it’s not only hard to work with such a database—it can also affect your spam rate. If you send a lot of emails to non-existent, bouncing contacts, you can lower your spam rating. Your media contacts database should always be organized, categorized, and updated as often as possible—keeping your workplace clean and your mind calm.

5.) Use a media relations CRM

“PR CRMs are expensive, I can keep a database in Excel for free” 

Of course you can, the question is whether you should. If keeping a media database is at the core of your business, then you probably should search for ways of cutting costs someplace else. First of all, it’s hard to manage and update an Excel database. Secondly, if you lose your data, you might end up losing your database as well. Third and the most important issue here is the legal side to this problem. Some countries (including EU states starting from May 2018!*) require their citizens to have a stated proof of consent from every single person that appears in the database. With Excel, it becomes hard to manage all those consents which can lead to financial penalties. PR CRMs, which are often cloud-based solutions, can help not only to store and manage media contacts but also to collect those consents.

Perhaps after reading this article, you might get a headache just thinking about all those issues you may face when dealing with your media contacts database, but remember—it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Finding your method and systematically updating your contacts list will help you get back on track and let you clear your mind so you can stop worrying about media databases and start worrying about something else. Like what are you going to do this weekend or what to have for lunch.