Let’s get this straight right away: cookies are delicious. Gingersnaps, chocolate chip, peanut butter, Oreos, oatmeal raisin, Mallomars, those soft buttery ones with the little bit of raspberry jam right in the middle… I’m not here to tell you there is a wrong kind of cookie. But you and I both know that there is absolutely nothing like a freshly baked batch of from-scratch cookies straight out of your own oven.

Media lists for your cause are the same way. Store bought is delicious, but there’s no substitute for DIY.

Having access to a media contact database like Cision is nice if you can afford it. You can search an issue area and the database will spit out 1000 reporter emails. Voila! Well…semi-voila. Are those reporters really relevant?

The best media list is one you bake yourself — one that will actually work for your outreach efforts requires thought, time and maintenance. It’s not about having the longest or easiest list. It’s about having the smahtest one. (I’m from Boston, deal with it.) What you want is a list full of reporters (could be 5, could be 10, could be 50, depending on who you are and what your cause is) who will seriously consider your pitch and write the story you want.

So, how do you go about making a list from scratch and keeping it delicious over time?

First and foremost, you need to actually read! Read, read, read. And then read some more. Taking time to really research who is covering your issue and how your issue is being covered is the key to a wicked awesome list.

Take the time to do a Google and find the answers to these questions…

  • Which reporters have covered your issue in the last couple years?
  • Which reporters have covered your organization already?
  • Which reporters have covered your peers recently?

Then, when you have those homemade names, you can open up that database and look up their email addresses.

Think local. Key insider insight: the United States is a pretty big place. And because it’s so big, there are only a handful of media outlets that have much national reach. The bad news is, they might not need you or your story. The good news is: you may not need them, either.

Plenty of organizations find that local coverage can actually end up being the MOST important, because it has a more direct line to influencers on the ground. Outlets like the Tampa Bay Times and Texas Tribune have been churning out some great investigative journalism on issues ranging from homelessness to criminal justice.

Think outside the beats box. Let’s say your organization is putting out a report proving that eating pizza makes you skinny. You wrote an awesome pitch. It even has a pepperoni pie chart.

Obviously you’re going to pitch your report to Pizza Today and some food reporters. But who else might be interested? We’d go searching for reporters from the Cannabis Business Times, NYT’s Well Blog, and Men’s Health.

While we’re on the topic of thinking outside the box, remember to diversify the types of outlets you’re pitching.

The New York Times is like that guy you’ve been dating for a while who’s super busy all the time and doesn’t return your texts. It’s fun when you finally do hang out, but it can be exhausting to get there. We won’t ghost you, NYT, (and hope we can still be friends?) but when it comes to getting great coverage for our issues, more and more we’re starting to look elsewhere and exploring other outlets.

For examples…! The Marshall Project has been doing some really incredible reporting around juvenile justice. Refinery29, is regularly impressing us with their recommendations for dude haircuts and their coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis. (You can actually check out 11 of our fave online outlets making news that matters.)

We’re also digging podcasts launched by media outlets. They’re continuing to grow, and they’re totally pitch-able. A few we’ve been keeping tabs on include PBS’s Shortwave, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal and NPR’s Invisibilia.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, look at your media lists as living, breathing documents that need loving care. In other words, DON’T set it and forget it.

The most effective lists are ones that are constantly being updated, tailored and fine-tuned. This also entails staying on top of who’s writing about what, and who’s being hired and fired in the tumultuous journalism world.

Here are a few ways we’ve found useful:

  • Monitor your issue every day and when a new reporter comes on your radar, add them to your media list.
  • Pay attention to Twitter to hear about staffing shake-ups in real time. Reporters will often announce it themselves or their colleagues might congratulate them on their new gig.
  • Sign up for newsletters like Muckrack that deliver daily updates on reporter transitions right into your inbox.

When you do see a reporter make a move, make the change in your list. And then send them a congrats note, because here’s the thing: reporters are almost all human beings. Even though we talk about them as people on a list, don’t forget that reporters are real people who have lives outside your inbox. They like to know that their work is noticed, that it has impact.

Have you considered baking your favorite reporter a fresh batch of cookies?

PS – My co-workers are some of the smartest, kindest, coolest nerds I’ve ever met. And we work with amazing clients that are changing the world in truly meaningful ways. And speaking of cookies, we eat those a lot, too! We’re hiring a bunch of people right now — know someone who might like it here? Check out our job openings and spread the word