The 5 Most Common Problems with Media Databases (and How to Solve Them)

by | Nov 24, 2020 | Media database, PR Tools, Public Relations

Media databases are powerful tools.

They quickly provide PR practitioners access to journalists from across a wide breadth of industries and outlets, and within a variety of roles (reporters, editors, and producers to name a few). Most databases also offer an easy way to compile media lists, and integrated email outreach capabilities to contact the desired journalists.

Aside from acting as a directory and outreach tool, high-performing databases provide additional information on contacts, making it easier to craft fitting pitches.

Considering all the benefits, it’s no surprise that databases are ubiquitous among PR agencies and in-house communications teams seeking to gain earned media. But it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Even seasoned PR professionals can face real challenges when using a database.

Being in the game for as long as we have, we’re familiar with the pitfalls of database use. That’s why we’re here. To share the five most common database-use challenges—provided by our clients and from our own research of 500+ online reviews of media database tools—and the solutions.

1) Data integrity of media contacts

Finding accurate, highly relevant media contacts is the first step to earning coverage for your brand or client. So, it’s no surprise that the integrity of contact data is a top concern for PR professionals.

Data integrity issues can manifest themselves in multiple ways. Here are the most common scenarios that come up:

  • “There aren’t nearly enough journalists displayed for the search I’m running. I expected to see at least twice as many contacts.”
  • “My search results are missing some important media contacts that I know are covering this subject.”
  • “I’m noticing outdated contact information for this person. It looks like they’ve left the outlet listed here.”
  • “I’m finding generic group email addresses rather than specific email addresses for an individual.”
  • “It seems like I can’t find any journalists covering local news, only national contacts are available.”

The solution

When it comes to data integrity challenges, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re in the research phase of purchasing a media database or switching vendors, this is the ideal time to address the problem.

Make sure you’re going with a vendor who does not have any known issues keeping their contacts updated. Look into online reviews, both negative and positive. We recommend asking how often they update their database as one of our 10 questions to ask when choosing a database vendor.

Whether or not you’re in the position to switch media databases, here are a few more measures you can take to address data integrity concerns:

  • See if you can submit requests to have more contacts researched and added for topics without substantial representation. A vendor who will work with you to fill a gap in contact data is a must-have.
  • Check your filters when searching for media contacts. One misused filter can dramatically limit your results. If you’re not getting the volume of results you expected, try and open up your search parameters to one or two key filters and then add more one-by-one. This will help you see which filters are cutting down on your list size.
  • Check if you’re able to import your own contacts into the media database tool. Although this won’t address the concern of finding new contacts, some PR professionals keep a tried-and-true list of contacts with whom they already have relationships. You want to be able to integrate your personal contacts into the database for outreach purposes.

2) Lack of response from email pitches

At some point in their career, most PR professionals have been underwhelmed by the amount of journalist engagement and pick-up they’ve received on an outstanding pitch.

Considering all that PR is up against when it comes to landing coverage, it’s normal to experience ebbs and flows in the response you receive from journalists. But, if you’re consistently getting little to no response on the pitches you send from your database, it’s time to address the situation.

The solution

Although it’s disheartening when it happens, lack of response to your pitches is one of the more easily solved problems.

In fact, there are many great resources out there for getting your pitches noticed and loved by journalists. We even devote an annual virtual summit to the topic!

We’re not going to recap all the best practice info available, but here are a few changes you can make to the way you approach pitches to get more engagement from journalists:

  • Create well targeted lists. Rather than creating one big list for your outreach, consider creating multiple smaller lists that are more specific. For example, instead of a single list of journalists covering universities, try breaking it down into sub-lists like journalists covering university admissions on a national level, and journalists covering university admissions in the U.S. Midwest. Having such targeted lists allows you to make your outreach more relevant to your audience and increases your likelihood of getting a response.
  • Use criteria other than beats to search for journalists. Beats are a great place to begin, but if your media database allows you to also search by keyword, you’ll find journalists that cover topics relevant to your brand. For example, journalists covering “museum architecture” rather than just “architecture”. This is also a good way to find journalists writing pieces that deviate from their beat, which can be a goldmine of new contacts for your media list.
  • Look for journalists talking about your keywords on social media. If your database allows you to search for journalists posting about certain topics on social media, you’ll find additional contacts covering stories, or at least interested in topics, relevant to your brand. When you use your database rather than the social media platform to search for keywords, your results will include only verified journalists discussing a topic, rather than anyone with a Twitter handle.
  • Follow up. Journalists are busy and may need a reminder about your pitch. We always recommend our clients take advantage of email reporting to see how a journalist interacted with their initial pitch so they can best organize and prioritize follow up. For example, if you can see that a journalist opened and clicked on your pitch, you can send a gentle nudge to see if they want to set up a call. If a journalist didn’t interact with your email, you may choose to send a check-in email that directs them to your original pitch.
  • Keep your media lists fresh! We’ll talk more about this in the next section.

3) Keeping media lists up to date

A media list is like a freeze frame. Since it’s common for journalists to move to different outlets, or change the areas they’re covering, that fantastic list you put together may only be relevant for a short period of time.

While it’s ideal for PR professionals to set aside some time before each pitch to review and update their media list, we know it can go overlooked. Unfortunately, if a list continues being used without enough review, it could mean potentially harming your relationships. A journalist who feels they’ve received an irrelevant pitch may even choose to unsubscribe from receiving your emails altogether. Or you may receive a bunch of bounce back emails from journalists who have moved to new outlets or retired. Or you could miss out on new and exciting contacts who are a perfect fit for your story!

The solution

Review your list before every outreach email. Maybe you need an entirely new list or maybe just a refresh will do.

We know you’re strapped for time, so we’ve come up with some quick ways to keep your lists current:

  • In addition to saving static lists, save the criteria of the search(es) you used. This will allow you to quickly make a new list without having to run a new search. Simply scan the updated search results and add the best contacts. Any out-of-date contacts should automatically be removed from your list at the same time.
  • Small(ish) lists are best. The smaller your lists, the less updates you’ll need to do. Plus, as we mentioned earlier, smaller and more targeted lists are most effective when performing media outreach.
  • Media list updates can be a great task to outsource to an intern or junior member of your team looking to gain more experience. This can be a win-win because it gives them valuable experience using a new tool and saves you time.

4) Email pitches aren’t mobile-friendly

If there is one thing PR professionals know, it’s that first impressions are everything. PR practitioners meticulously review their pitches to make sure they are studiously crafted and free of spelling and grammar mistakes.

Despite this attention to detail, formatting issues can still slip under the radar. Formatting issues happen because your media contacts could be using many different device types (desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets) and email clients (Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail) to check their messages.

Each device type and email client has its own unique way of sending and presenting an email, which means when you test your email, you may not see certain formatting issues that appear to someone using a different device or client than you.

As it becomes more common for journalists to use mobile phones to check their emails, it’s subsequently more important for you to make sure your emails don’t appear too small, that images render properly and that your emails don’t appear otherwise improperly formatted.

When an email pitch isn’t optimized for mobile devices, at best it’s difficult for a journalist to read your pitch, and at worst, it’s entirely unreadable and makes a bad impression. Adding to this concern is that most PR professionals are not familiar with email coding language, which can make it more difficult to address this issue in some media databases.

The solution

Your email pitches aren’t doomed to appear wonky on small screens. Here are a few ways you can ensure that your emails look just as good on mobile devices as on desktops:

  • Test your email on a mobile device before sending it to your list of journalists. Add yourself and some colleagues to a test list ahead of time and check how the email appears on the most common mobile and desktop email applications (here’s a great report on the most common email clients used).
  • See if your media database has a mobile optimization feature. Sometimes optimizing for mobile is as simple as checking a box before sending the email.
  • Keep things simple. Messy email formatting on mobile and desktop often happens when users play around with fonts or paste things in from multiple sources. If you’re able to, try typing the pitch directly into your email tool or paste from only one source.
  • Eliminate or cut down on the number of attachments you send. It is generally recommended to include a link to a library of media assets rather than attaching files (plus you get the bonus of being able to see whether someone clicked the link).
    But, if you absolutely have to send attachments, check out this blog on Choosing the Right Format for Sending Documents to Journalists. Similarly, avoid pasting images directly into the body of your email.

5) Slow or non-intuitive user experience

A slow or glitchy media database and a clunky, complex or confusing user interface can reduce productivity.

If areas of your database are inefficient, it can (understandably) be a source of frustration, especially since the main reason you purchased a database was to increase your productivity!

The solution

This is another challenge that is most easily solved when still in the research phase of purchasing a new media database. Having the chance to take a look at a tool in a product video can be great, but don’t stop there! Try to watch as many product videos, demos or webinars featuring the tool as possible. This will give you a sense of how processes in the tool flow (or don’t flow).

However, if you’re not able to switch media databases, here are some other tips to consider:

  • Use a strong naming convention for assets like outreach emails and lists. This will help you stay organized.
  • Submit feedback to your vendor—whether through your account manager or support team—about processes that aren’t working for you. Encourage them to incorporate your feedback into their future design plans.
  • Make sure you’re using the tool on the suggested Internet browser. Sometimes using an outdated browser can cause slowness or glitches.
  • Narrow your search by adding a couple of filters. Sometimes running very large searches can cause speed issues so try building smaller lists.

Your media database should come with a supportive team willing and ready to help you address any issue you might encounter using the tool.

If you’re not getting the level of customer support you need, it might be time to consider switching tools. We recommend setting a reminder for yourself to review other media database tools before you renew your current agreement.

At Agility PR Solutions we want all PR professionals to be successful with their media outreach! You can always contact us if you want to discuss any of the solutions mentioned above.

Cara Valle
Cara is a dynamic and results-oriented marketing leader with over 10 years of experience delivering high-performing marketing campaigns. Passionate about the PR and communications space, she is dedicated to delivering value to agency and in-house comms professionals. Cara leverages her expertise in marketing automation and digital marketing to drive demand generation strategies that align with business objectives and deliver tangible results.


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