Making Media Lists Work Better for Business

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Targeting PR content effectively is getting easier and it’s worth checking with your PR agency how they are generating target media lists for both UK and international publications. It’s a reasonable expectation that money spent on PR should generate real and measurable value for your business, so going through the motions of issuing media content without a degree of data-driven planning is both reckless and wasteful.

Indiscriminate carpet-bombing – sending content to as many outlets as possible in the hope of generating clippings – isn’t really the way to improve visibility or achieve business objectives.  Volume of clippings does not equate to value for money because 80% of an audience reached by PR results from media relations is almost always delivered by just 20% of the media that covers it.

The standard approach to creating a more considered list has its own pitfalls. Media databases approach the problem of targeting by presenting a wealth of data, but it is too tempting to add titles and names to your circulation ‘just in case’ your content might be relevant. Particularly overseas, the local media market can be poorly understood, turning targeting into a lucky dip. Trade publications are easy to spot; however, they don’t always have the circulation necessary to create a decent impact.  If we’re honest, in many cases trade publications only gain exposure to peers and competitors, with clients increasingly lacking time or motivation to read them.

Beware of Lengthy Lists and Vanity Lists

It’s a much-bemoaned fact among PR agencies that every client has unrealistic expectations of appearing in ‘the nationals’ or the Financial Times.  Under pressure to retain the account, these are normally classified as the top tier of target media, despite the slim chance of them publishing most of the PR content generated by organisations. For anyone wanting to reach consumers, the enormous choice of media outlets – especially online media – makes the generation of effective media lists challenging.  The result is often a lengthy list, or a vanity list, rather than a quality list which has a good chance of delivering desired results.

Let’s go back to the fact that 80% of audience is generated by only 20% of media.  This group of media should always be the A List for targeting.  First, though, the relevant publications must be identified.  This exercise can feel counter-intuitive. The publication might look pertinent, but just because something has ‘travel’ in the title doesn’t mean it is the best vehicle for content about cottage holidays in the UK, for example. Any PR agency worth its salt should be asking questions about which titles its target audiences are actually reading and engaging with. Then the Account Director needs to swallow a ‘brave pill’ and present the client with data-driven evidence to show why these are the priorities for media relations activities.

In the same way that SEO can help drive Owned content to the top of online search results, we can identify which media titles are most likely to get PR-generated content into the most visible online spots, increasing their likelihood of being seen and read.  There is also a great opportunity to learn from what has worked well in the past, either for your own brand or for competitors. This often throws up surprises for our clients, who realise that while ‘the nationals’ may indeed play a part in reaching the right audiences, there are other alternatives which are easier to access but very effective.  Especially internationally, clients are fascinated to see which titles are driving audience engagement and frequently it is not those they might have anticipated. Understanding where results have come from in the past doesn’t guarantee future results, but it does significantly increase the probability of success.

For each organisation and brand, the ideal – or ‘golden’ – media list will be unique.  The good news is that data exists to identify target media which are far more than a list of email addresses. Indiscriminate targeting annoys journalists more than anything and it should annoy clients and agencies alike because in the age of intelligent PR, the ‘broadcast’ press release should be consigned to history.


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