Beyond The Media List: Pro-Active Prospecting for Pitching Creative Content

It's sometimes hard to know where to start with prospecting.

If, like me, part of your job is to get your clients coverage using creative content, you’re likely using a media database like Gorkana to find publications and journalists to pitch to.

There are other ways to find a journalist’s email address (and, let’s face it, we’ve all done our fair share of internet stalking to try to get our creative pieces into the right hands) but media databases, I think, are the most effective way to easily pull up a list of relevant journalists and publications.

I use Gorkana, a media database with contact details of journalists all over the world, but my prospecting process doesn’t start and end with pulling up a ready-made media list. For one, sometimes using a list can leave you with a bunch of irrelevant people and publishers, and secondly, if you really want to target the right journalists and gain coverage for your clients with creative content, it’s almost always worth going the extra mile.

So instead of relying on media lists, I use a variety of different prospecting methods to find the best possible people to pitch to, even if it does take a little longer.

Prospecting on Twitter

I’m going to assume that, unless you’ve been living under a rock up until this point and only resurfaced to read this blog post, that you have a Twitter account.  I mean, every good digital marketer does, right?


When it comes to prospecting Twitter is a winner for a few reasons. One, it’s completely free; two, you can stalk journalists without them knowing (yes, LinkedIn, I’m looking at you); three, there’s more than one way to use it to find what you’re looking for.

Let’s dig into those right now.

Building Twitter lists

Step one: find some journalists on Twitter and follow them

You could just follow anyone and everyone but, if this process is going to help you on an ongoing basis, your best bet is to follow the ones you think might be relevant to any creative content you’re going to be promoting in the future.

Step two: create a Twitter list and add those journalists to it

The beauty of this step is that, if you don’t want journalists to know you’ve added them to a list, you can just make it private, meaning you (and only you) will be able to see it. Also, if you’ve got several projects in the pipeline, you can make a list of journalists for each one.

Step three: set yourself up on Hootsuite or Tweetdeck

I’m not saying you have to leave Twitter’s desktop site altogether, because we’ll be coming back to using that in a second, but if you want to use Twitter for prospecting you need to set yourself up on either Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.

These social media dashboards allow you to create columns, one of which I’d recommend you use to display tweets from the list of journalists you created in Step 2. That way, you can monitor what those journalists are tweeting about and, provided you take a glance at it once in a while, be on hand straight away if they’re working on a story that’s relevant to your client and tweeting about it.

Prospecting using Twitter search

Back on the Twitter desktop site, the next step to finding relevant journalists for specific creative campaigns and building out your prospect list is by using the search bar within Twitter itself.

Think about the piece of content you’re going to be promoting: will it appeal to lifestyle journalists, tech journalists, finance reporters? A great way to find journalists in these fields, aside from using your preferred media database, is to search for them on Twitter by using, surprise surprise, the search bar.

Look, no-one said getting out of the prospect list rut had to be overly complicated.

So, say you’ve got a piece of content launching which will appeal to writers who focus on personal finance, search ‘personal finance journalist’ on Twitter and your results should look something like this:

These results will not only give you a list of journalists to add to your prospect list (and if they haven’t included their email address in their profile you can always search for them by name in Gorkana) but it may also give you some ideas on which publications to target.

Prospecting with link analysis tools

Most digital PRs will know their way around link analysis tools like Majestic, Open Site Explorer, and Ahrefs which we use to establish how many inbound links a piece of coverage has gained over the course of a campaign.

These tools are normally used to find out the results of a project once it’s over, but you can also use them to your advantage even before your piece of content has launched.

Step one: find similar pieces of content

Here at Distilled the content we produce is, for the most part, interactive.  We visualise data so that’s it’s easy to digest and appealing to general consumers.  Sometimes this content is inspired by something we’ve seen that uses similar data but isn’t so widely appealing, isn’t interactive, or doesn’t have the strong angles we need to get the attention of journalists

I say ‘inspired by’ because, of course, we’re not rehashing something that’s been done before, that would be pointless.  But other pieces of content can definitely act as a starting point during the ideation process, something that all PRs should take part in.

This content, often launched years beforehand, can be useful when it comes to building out your own prospect list.

Step two: copy the URL into a link analysis tool (I used Open Site Explorer)

From this, you can quickly pull up a list of publications who covered it.

The list of publications can be helpful, but it’s the name of the journalist who wrote the article that you really want to get your hands on: sort the results by Domain Authority so you’ve got the highest quality coverage at the top of your results and start opening those articles. This will enable you to find sites and journalists who could be interested in your new piece of content based on the fact that they covered something similar before.

Just Googling it

As PRs, we’re used to being able to reel off a bunch of publication names off the top of our heads and we’ll often also have an idea of specific journalists who’d be interested in a piece of content, especially if we already have a good relationship with them.

This can be harder, though, if you’re launching a piece focussed on a subject you’ve never pitched around before.

This is when Google can be the a good starting point.

Before we launched this piece, I wanted to find out which sites had produced articles on a similar subject.  I wasn’t looking for similar pieces of content, just articles with stats about Instagram.   I figured that, if journalists had written about how many photos are uploaded to Instagram then they’d be interested in an interactive piece that made those stats meaningful and created a sense of how huge those numbers are just in the way it was designed.

So I started Googling:

Searchers are clearly interested in how many photos are uploaded to Instagram

Which brought up a bunch of relevant articles written by a range of journalists: tech, social media, marketing, those who focus on reporting on digital trends. And even though I knew I’d also want to target other journalists, this was a great starting point. Pairing this method with the Moz Bar (which I leave open almost constantly) I was also able to see the quality of the sites who’d covered similar subjects which helped me establish whether or not I wanted to target them at all.

Of course, prospecting isn’t rocket science but, having run training sessions with client’s in-house outreach teams, I know that simple tactics like this are often overlooked.  For time-stretched PRs and outreachers, pulling a media list from Gorkana and sending out mass emails is the norm and, while I’m often pushed for time as well, I’ve seen better results from pro-active prospecting -  thinking ‘outside the media list’ - than when I’ve just relied on databases to do the work for me.

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