Need to Build a Media List? Follow These 5 Steps [2023]

Wendy Hathaway
Wendy Hathaway

You’ve built and nurtured your own communication channels – email newsletters, social media, and peer-to-peer campaigns – and already reach a dedicated and invested audience.

But, journalists and influencers have the potential to amplify your message exponentially, so it’s crucial to make contact with reporters, writers, and bloggers who care about what you have to say and want to share it with the world.

Here are four steps for building and nurturing your media contacts.

Start With Basic Research

Identify your target audience – not only who you hope will share your organization’s story, but also who is meant to watch, hear, or read it. How can you find out who covers your beat (a.k.a. who is interested in, or reports on specific topics similar to the messages you share), as well as which mediums are right for your story?

Start by being an active consumer. Watch and listen to all of your local news outlets, read your local newspapers, and take note of who reports on stories that relate to community service in general, or, more specifically, the issues your organization is working to solve.

Understand which platforms will be the right fit for the story you’re telling. You don’t need to hold a degree in journalism to start to figure out who to contact for your pitch. Start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Is what we do visually compelling? If so, television is a great fit to show and tell what your organization does.
  • Do I have advocates, volunteers, or clients willing to share their story? The emotion behind very personal stories shines very brightly in television and radio, though a skilled writer will also be able to make these characters come to life in print and online.
  • Is our work easy-to-understand, or is it complicated and complex? Radio programs and television news broadcasts are under tight time pressure, and newspapers can provide only so many inches. If your issues are complicated, and in need of translation, and possibly some handy charts or infographics, you may want to consider web publications that can give your story more room to breathe.
  • Where does my target audience live? Stick to local media if your nonprofit service area reaches no farther than your area code. If you’re a national or global nonprofit, you’ll need to think bigger. This could include digital publications, such as NPR, or niche bloggers who focus on writing about your issues and causes.

Set aside time to do online research and start to make a list of people who’ve covered similar stories in the past. Bonus points when you can find someone who has personal ties to your cause, or who has spoken out in the past in support of the type of work you do.

Don’t forget about bloggers and other online content producers. Your press list should consist of traditional media journalists, as well as community members and online influencers who can help tell your story to an even broader audience.

Consider your target audience of donors and volunteers. Do you have data on the demographics of your current and potential supporters? Use that to draw a picture of the people you want to reach, and work backward from there to narrow down which publications or websites you might pitch to.

If you’re not finding what you need, you might also call or email the editorial team at the publication or news outlet you hope to connect with. Introduce yourself, and ask them for advice on who might be your best point of contact. Just remember: journalists and bloggers are almost always working on tight deadlines, so be careful not to take up too much of their time, especially on a cold call.

Not sure who in a newsroom, editorial team, or blog staff to start with? Here are some definitions to get you started.

Use Technology To Stay Up-To-Date

Get started collecting information on journalists around the globe using Google alerts. Create a google alert for each keyword or topic that relates to your cause. You’ll be notified by email when new content is published and can begin keeping track of the people behind the bylines. Click here for a Google help guide.

There are also a number of products available designed to monitor digital chatter about your brand. Using the platform, you can set up keyword searches and see who is talking about you and your cause, as well as stories that pop up about similar topics. (Bonus feature: this tool also uses your existing email list – in this case, your donors, volunteers, and other supporters – to help you find, and connect with, your supporters on social media.)

Make Initial Contact

Now that you’ve built a list of around 10-15 influencers, you will have better success with your initial pitch if you introduce yourself first. You could send a short email, or schedule a time for a quick phone call, and tell them what your non-profit does and why they should care, as well as why your story will engage their audience.

Once you’ve established that human connection, there is a better chance they’ll remember you and your cause, and a better chance they’ll run with your pitches.

Avoid sending press releases to any general inbox, like or More people will receive it, but most people will delete it immediately.

Still not ready to hit “send?” Here are ten tips you should implement when pitching a journalist, from what to include – and what to avoid.

Build relationships with your press contacts

Build Relationships

Just like in your personal life, the relationships you have with your press contacts will thrive only when you invest time in them. Don’t be a pest – again, journalists are often under very tight deadlines – but stay in touch, and don’t disappear until you need something again.

Set up a time to have coffee. Find out who they are and what they’re interested in. And always thank them for their coverage. Include links to blog posts, articles, and videos in your own communications whenever possible (your emails, newsletters, or social media), and include a hat tip to the person who made the publicity possible.

Organize Your List And Keep It Current

You already have a detailed database with information about your volunteers and donors. Why not organize your press contacts, as well? This will help you manage contact information, their beats, and what stories they’ve helped you with in the past, which makes it easier for you to keep in touch and for others in your non-profit to stay informed of your public relations efforts.

Depending on your resources, this could be as easy as building a spreadsheet; or, you can find several free and paid technology platforms to help you monitor media mentions and press contact.

Keep your list current, too. Double-check phone numbers and email addresses at least twice a year (which should be easy if you’re staying on top of Tip # 4: Building Relationships!).

Related: check out these sample pitch emails for more inspiration.

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