Publicity: Back to Basics>>What Goes Into Building a Good Media List?

By Katie Sheehan, Berrett-Koehler Publishers

I asked Publicists from the NCBPMA a series of questions related to the media list-building process. I heard back from Cynthia Shannon (CS), Publicist at Wiley, Karma Bennett (KB), Publicist for Ulysses Press, Laura Pexton, Publicist, Peachpit, Adrienne Biggs (AB), Independent Publicist, and myself, Katie Sheehan (KS), Publicist, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

1) In a few sentences please describe the types of books you work on and the genre they fall into.

CS – I work on business books, everything from finance to social media, leadership, management, and general business.

KB – Anything cutting-edge or trendy. Sorry, no single genre can contain them…many are health, fitness, humor, sexuality or travel…but many of them aren’t.

LP – Our books mainly cover technology, photography, digital video and business topics.

AB – I specialize in books, events and festivals that focus on healthy lifestyle and spirituality, personal growth, and doing good in the world.

KS – We publish business books, current affairs, and personal growth books.

2) When you build a list is it typically large or small? Describe in a few sentences your philosophy about building a good list.

CS – I generally send out books to about 100 contacts, plus any media contacts the author may have. I build the list in Cision, but I also go through my contacts to see if there are any freelancers who may be interested in a particular title.

KB – I used to build a huge list but we are getting away from media mail because it is unpredictable and unreliable. My new strategy is to build a huge email list and use that list to construct a much smaller mailing list of no more (and often much less than) sixty.

LB – When I build a list, it is usually small-medium sized and very targeted, initially. I want to make sure it is a list that I can pitch effectively with a good possibility of return on that time investment. If the list is small enough, I can do my research and actually read, watch, or listen to each contact and then craft a pitch that applies specifically to them. This has proven to be much more productive in both gaining coverage and building relationships than working from an enormous list and sending a form response to everyone hoping that something sticks.

AB – The size of the list really depends on the project. For example, if the client would benefit most from a regional short-lead campaign, the list would be smaller than if I felt the client would benefit from a multi-city tour, including long-lead national outlets and public events.

KS – I have to create a multitude of lists for all genres. When the book falls into our sweet spot (business) I use our very targeted internal database of personal contacts and when it’s book that falls outside of our usual contacts I use Cision. Smaller is better because the follow up can be more targeted.

3) If you send galleys, how many do you send?

CS – We rarely do galleys anymore, but minimum remains 10 to go to the trades or big magazines, and at most 100, to go to long lead media and freelancers. To justify that number though, the author either hired an outside PR firm or has a lot of personal media contacts.

KB – We are an indie so I tend to only send galleys to the trades and occasionally to select long-lead publications. Thus, 10-15 galleys. Often because our books have a very high turn-around we don’t do galleys at all. Like if a book is ready for galleys next week but is going straight to the printer, we’ll get final copies in a month and advances even sooner. Galleys would just be silly because trades like PW won’t touch it if it isn’t three months early.

LB – We don’t send many print galleys anymore, but sending e-galleys is becoming more commonplace and cost/time-effective. This tends to be a better option especially for our books as they often relate to new and changing technology so the turn-around time is much faster than fiction might be.

AB – Again, it depends. But generally, I’ve reduced the number of galleys I’ve been sending. It used to be 100-250 and these days I feel 40-100 usually does the trick. E-galleys are also becoming popular and although I support the “green” and efficiency aspects of this new format, I feel that most media outlets still prefer to hold a bound galley in their hands (I know that I do!).

KS – We still print quite a few galleys, about 25-35 for big trade titles and maybe 10 – 20 for professional titles.

4) Who is on the list of your long-lead publications (in any genre)?

CS – Book trades, magazines ranging from Fast Company to AARP to Cosmopolitan.

KB – The drawback of being the only publicist for a company that covers so many genres is that I don’t have a regular list.

LB – Our list of long-lead publications includes Photoshop User, Wired, Print, Communication Arts, and and Layers Magazine, among others.

AB – I always hand-select my lists from my database for each project. For example, if I were working on a healthy lifestyle book of interest to Buddhists and the general public and written by a leading expert in the field, in addition to the trade reviewers and religion editors at the weekly newsmagazines like TIME, I’d be sure to include: Ascent, Awareness, Body + Soul, Beliefnet, Books & Culture, BuddhaDharma, Buddhism Today, Common Ground, Earth Star, EnlightenNext, Inquiring Mind, Light of Consciousness, Mandala, More, Natural Living, New Age Retailer, New Connexion, O Magazine, Parabola, Religion News Service, Psychology Today, Science and Spirit, Science of Mind, Self, Shambhala Sun, Shift, Spirituality & Health, Tibet House Drum Newsletter, Tricycle Buddhist Review, Turning Wheel, Vision, Wisdom, Worldviews, Yoga Journal, Yoga + Joyful Living (plus organizations like Barna Research Group and influencers like Pico Iyer, Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock, Jennifer Louden & Frances Lefkowitz)

KS – Business books – BusinessWeek, association newsletters, Forbes, NewsWeek, Good Business
Current Affairs – Yes!, The Nation, In These Times, American Prospect, Ode Magazine
Personal Growth – Experience Life, O Magazine, Self, Spirituality and Health

5) How do you follow up? — email, phone, fax, snail mail?

CS – Email.

KB – Email, always. Not only are phone calls time consuming, they have the potential to burn bridges. I’d rather send two follow-up emails than make one phone call.

LB – We usually follow up via email.

AB – These days, I tend to spend 90% of my time online and email works great, especially for media contacts I know well (and can send to their personal email addresses). But I’ll pick up the phone to follow-up with a handful of top outlets, to let them know I’ve emailed the information. I’ll also call the top outlets if a news headline hits and my author’s expertise is clearly more in demand.

KS – Email for sure!

6) Who is generally on your list for the review copy mailing? Websites? Bloggers? Broadcast? Newspapers?

CS – All of the above. Except I stopped sending copies to radio producers (except a select few) since they always seem to “misplace” the book or “can’t find it, will you send another one.”

KB – 70% magazines and bloggers, 30% everything else.

LB – Our list for review copies is targeted by subject-matter, rather than media venue. The folks who regularly review our photography titles, for example, will receive a review copy regardless of whether they write for a newspaper, blog, TV program, etc.

AB – Given the downturn in print media circulation, there are fewer newspaper staff reviewers to send to. However, many of them have found new homes reviewing books or blogging online. So again, depending on the project, I’d say these days my short-lead media lists are comprised of 60% online outlets, 20% print, 15% radio and 5% TV.

KS – All of the above – more and more websites. I offer excerpts and articles to the editors. I’m trying to build relationships with bloggers by offering a couple of free books as give-aways on their blog. That is working well.

7) If you create lists for media blasts how do you do that? What databases does everyone use? How do you structure your email blast? What do you include?

CS – We use Publicity Assistant and hate it. It’s hard to keep it updated and current, but all of us try to contribute as much as we can.

KB – I use Cision. I keep it as succinct as possible, with links and more info below the signature. I put images of the book but nothing else, because I don’t want something that is going to crash their email if they are checking it from a Blackberry.

LB – We have a press newsletter that goes out to a list of approx. 3000 subscribers. These are press folks who signed up on their own to receive this.  I also send press releases or media blasts to a targeted list of contacts who have expressed interest in being notified of all future titles covering a certain subject matter. I do not send a blast to anyone who has not already expressed interest. For press who have not asked to be on the list, they are pitched individually and separately. After the pitch, they may decide they would like to continue to receive updates, at which point they will be added to the email blast list.

AB – I hear good things about Constant Contact and I want to check into it. But until then, my tried and true (old-school) method is, again, to hand-select the specific people I want to include from my personal FilemakerPro database of 6,913 records (which are separated by subject, outlet type, address, etc) and cut and paste however many people seem relevant to the project. I tag each record with the project code so I can go back and make my follow up calls and so I keep a running tally of which contacts have received which pitches. I embrace new technology (I’ve created/manage 6 Twitter sites and 5 FB groups) and I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, but I’ve done my mailings this way since 1999 so part of me says, “If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it!”

KS – I use Cision for most of my email blasts. I include author videos, quotes from endorsers, links to the book page and to the author’s website. I try to include a variety of media. I will generally paste the press release into the email below the signature.

8) Please include any special tips or tricks or bits of advice about building a great media list!

CS – One trick I have is to call Cision and let them build the list for you. This works especially well when you have a few different niches to target.

LB – Our lists are only as effective as the work that was put into them. They are based on research to find the appropriate subject matter they cover and a relationship that dictates how each person is approached.

KS – As much as possible I try and share lists with other publicists! We have a great list of associations, progressive websites, radio stations, and bloggers. I’m always looking to share great contacts.

AB – If you’re a freelancer like me, and you can’t really afford to subscribe to an expensive database like Cision, and you specialize in a particular kind of book, I think the best way to build a great media list is to keep an eye on the mastheads of the print and online publications that feature your kind of title; listen to the radio shows and watch the TV shows that regularly interview your kind of client (production credits are announced or rolled at the end of each show); and if you know that a contact has changed (like when a package is returned undeliverable) don’t hesitate; call the outlet (websites can be out of date) to get the new contact info and update their record in your database right then and there. And finally, if I’m really in a pinch and I need a good contact at a specific outlet, I’ll call some PR pals, and they are generally more than happy to share. And I never forget to return favors like that!

Stay tuned for next months issue of the newsletter for more “Back to Basics.”


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