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How to Build Your Own Media List of E-mail Addresses

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“Where can I find the e-mail addresses for the media?” I’ve been asked that time and again in the seven years since my book Publicity on the Internet was first published. Publicists hoard their contacts and treasure them like gold. I know I do. Am I going to share my media list with you? Not a chance. Will I teach you how to build one yourself that is even better than mine because it’s custom-tailored for your market? You bet!


If your media list is going to be small–say, a few hundred critical contacts–you can maintain it in a spreadsheet, an e-mail address book, a word processing document, or even a Rolodex-style card file. But if your media contact list is likely to number in the thousands, you will benefit greatly by using contact management software.

When I started doing Internet publicity, I had a few hundred media e-mail addresses and felt as if I had a goldmine. Today, I have more than 22,000 contacts and I feel I’m falling behind. A lot of media outlets have only one mailing address, maybe a few fax numbers, up to a dozen phone lines, but perhaps hundreds of e-mail addresses.

My media-list database started as a Word Perfect document. Once I had a couple of thousand names, it went to an Excel spreadsheet, and quickly thereafter to NowContact, a contact management program. I’ve set up half a dozen media databases for companies since, using everything from FoxPro to ACT! Today we are on the brink of having bulk e-mail software that functions as well as contact management software. But we aren’t there yet. My recommendation for managing media lists of 1,000 or more contacts is either NowContact or ACT! As of this writing, I am considering migrating to Entourage, a Microsoft contact management program.

To build your own media list, you should first determine what software you want to keep the list in, and then design a template so that each record contains the kind of information you want. You can download the templates I have created for ACT! and NowContact at my website, or use them as a guide for deciding what fields to include in your own database.


Sleuthing for E-mail Addresses

Success with Internet publicity requires that your media list include the personal e-mail addresses of the writers, reporters, editors, and producers who create relevant news. According to the Middleberg/Ross “Media in Cyberspace” study, journalists have on average two e-mail addresses, with some having as many as 12. Which address do you want? I recommend the one their bosses use to communicate with them, since that e-mail account is likely to be closely monitored. My point here is that, try as they might, media contacts can’t keep their e-mail addresses private because they need them distributed fairly widely in order to function.


Here are my tips, then, for locating e-mail addresses of media contacts for your database.


  • Start with your own list.


    Begin by putting all your previous media contacts into your database. You can glean e-mail addresses from business cards, or phone the companies your contacts work for and ask for e-mail addresses.


  • Research print publications.


    The most fruitful way to gather media contact e-mail addresses is to go to the library with a portable computer, flip through every publication that reaches your target audience, and keyboard the e-mail addresses you find. Some publications list e-mail addresses on the masthead. If nothing else, the masthead should provide you with the domain name used for all e-mail addresses of people employed by the company, such as “nytimes.com.” Library research is the best way to find freelancers’ e-mail addresses, and it’s faster than online research. I can get as many as 300 e-mail addresses in one afternoon at the library.


  • Research broadcast media.


      You can use directories of broadcast media (such as




    to get the domain names of radio and television stations, networks, and syndicates. Sometimes these directories contain e-mail addresses for contacts at those outlets, but I wouldn’t trust them. You’ll mostly get generic addresses such as “news@” or “feedback@”–not the individual addresses you need. If you can, find the names of the news directors and producers in the directories, then guess their e-mail addresses. For television programs, I recommend watching TV with a paper and pen handy for writing down the names of producers that appear in the credits. You can also videotape programs and view the credits in slow motion, looking for contact names. This is by far the best way to get current contact names, since turnover is so high in this profession that printed directories are out of date by the time they’re bound.


  • Guess addresses.


    If you know the domain name used at the publication or station, you can easily guess the rest of the e-mail address for your target contacts. You can be pretty sure they use some variation of their names for addresses that they actually monitor (as opposed to the ones they use in bylines for e-mails that may be opened by staff).

For example, Walter Mossberg at The Wall Street Journal uses the public e-mail address mossberg@wsj.com. With the amount of mail he gets, you can be sure staff filters mail sent to this address. A review of The Wall Street Journal’s website indicates that a wide variety of addressing formats are used, including firstname.lastname, initial lastname, firstname initial, etc. So sticking with poor Walt Mossberg as an example, you might try the addresses walt.mossberg, walter.mossberg, wmossberg, waltm, and walterm. Most publications and stations have one common addressing system, and once you unlock it, the media contacts are yours. There’s no penalty for guessing wrong. If the address doesn’t work, your e-mail will bounce, and you can keep guessing until you get it right.


  • Find addresses at websites.


    Although websites seldom reveal addresses of print or broadcast contacts, they’re a good place to find the addresses of website editors and content producers, and to figure out the company’s addressing system. You can sometimes find e-mail addresses using online directories such as Yahoo’s People Search, but most of the sites I recommended in the past have either gone out of business or no longer give out full e-mail addresses.

Another sneaky way to find e-mail addresses is to browse the message boards at websites for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and TV stations. Reporters and producers often respond to comments and criticism on these boards, and their e-mail addresses are usually displayed along with their messages.


  • Find addresses on America Online and CompuServe.


    America Online still has a handy mechanism for searching the membership directory by keyword (“talk show producer” in the Occupation field, for example) or by using a person’s name. CompuServe also lets you search for a person by name, although it doesn’t have global profile searches. If you’re searching at a specific forum on CompuServe, such as the Media Professionals Forum, you can search profiles by keywords such as journalist, producer, reporter, etc.


Buying Lists

An alternative to building your own media list from the ground up is purchasing a list. This sounds like a good strategy, but the available lists suffer from two major problems.


The first is that they don’t contain enough personal e-mail addresses. The use of e-mail by media contacts has escalated dramatically in recent years, and the major directory vendors haven’t kept pace. Even as directory publishers scramble to add e-mail addresses, media contacts are switching to private addresses and withholding personal addresses from directory listings to spare journalists from inappropriate releases in excessive quantities.

The second major problem is that most directories don’t contain contact information for freelancers. Why is this important? Well, while employee turnover ruins media contact databases, freelancers seldom change the subjects they write about and usually keep the same e-mail addresses regardless of whom they write for. Also, freelancers don’t get hit as often with PR pitches and are thus more receptive to news releases.

So if you purchase a database of media contacts, consider it a starting point or supplement for your own list. Purchased lists will have good mailing address and fax information that can be helpful for traditional releases or supplemental materials. But you’ll have to add the e-mail addresses yourself. Don’t be surprised if you get fewer than 100 good e-mail addresses in a database of 10,000 media contacts.


Here’s a quick rundown on some of the lists and services available:


  • Bacon’s MediaSource


      (http://www.bacons.com). Bacon’s boasts a directory of more than 460,000 contacts representing more than 70,000 outlets. Just don’t expect to see a lot of personal e-mail addresses. You can purchase the

MediaSource CD-ROM

    for $2,395, access the same contacts for a year over the Internet for the same price, or buy smaller directories covering just print or broadcast outlets.


  • Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media


    (http://www.galegroup.com). Gale’s directory is comparable to Bacon’s, with a claim of more than 63,000 print and broadcast outlets. It’s available in a print version for $745.


  • Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory


    (http://www.ulrichsWeb.com). Ulrich’s does not include broadcast media. Still it claims over 250,000 entries. Online access is $1,450/year. A CD-ROM version is also available.


  • Gebbie’s All-In-One Media Directory


    (http://www.gebbieinc.com). Mark Gebbie provides excellent products for the budget-minded PR professional. His database covers about 20,000 print and broadcast outlets. You can purchase his lists in a three-disk set for $335 or buy a CD-ROM that includes distribution software for $550.


  • MediaMap


    (http://www.mediamap.com). I love these guys, but I hate their prices. MediaMap provides the kind of nitty-gritty, up-to-the-minute contact information you need–the name, title, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address of the specific person who can get you coverage at a station or publication. Unfortunately, they charge through the nose for this service. Here’s a tip for the budget conscious; review their MediaWatch updates on the site, which tell you about personnel changes at the outlets they cover. Then go dig up the contact info yourself. This is time-consuming, but free, and half the work has been done for you by the MediaMap staff.

Steve O’Keefe is the Executive Director of Patron Saint Productions, Inc. (patronsaintpr.com), a publishing consultancy specializing in online marketing strategies, campaigns, and training. This article is excerpted from his “Complete Guide to Internet Publicity,” copyright 2002 by Steve O’Keefe, by permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. To order the book, call 1-800-CALL-WILEY (225-5945) or visit www.wiley.com.

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