Advice on Building a Press List
It surprises me how many companies don’t keep a press list (also known as a media list). It’s honestly one of the most important things you can do for your business no matter what size you’re at. Ironically, it’s even more important for smaller indie studios, yet these are the very people that often don’t have them.
Just to clarify, a press list is exactly what is sounds like: a list of journalists, along with their contact info and the publication they work for.
Keeping an up-to-date press list gives you an easy way to reach out to the media every time you launch a new product or update. Sure there are PR firms or PR mailing services you could use, but they cost a lot and are usually not as effective as if you take the time to do it yourself. Just think, if you were a journalist would you rather speak to the creator of the product, or a PR firm that has very little insight into how or why the product was made?
You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having good media coverage, it’s one of the key components to helping propel your app up the charts at launch. It can often be even more effective than being featured by Apple, especially if the feature isn’t at the top centre of the App Store.
The easiest way to keep track of your press contacts is in a spreadsheet. I try to avoid spreadsheets as much as possible, but for keeping a press list I’ve still not found anything better. I use Numbers.app from Apple but feel free to use whatever works for you — I’ve looked for an online service to manage these contacts but they are all overly complex and come with a monthly subscription fee. Unless you do marketing full time, I’d say it’s best to stick with a spreadsheet, as it’s free and easy to manage.
A basic press list should contain the following columns: Publication, Website, Type, Name, Position, Email, and Notes. This is obviously not set in stone, you can add and remove columns depending on your needs. For example you could include space for a Twitter handle or a column for sent promo codes.
I’ve placed some example data in the above example just to make it very clear what each column is used for (you’ll need to do the work to find the email addresses yourself). The Notes column is useful to keep track of coverage and responses. For example, it’s worth noting if a publication has covered you in the past or never responds to your emails.
Building Your Press List
If you’ve been in touch with journalists before, dig through your email archive and add them to the spreadsheet. If you haven’t, it’s time to do some research. Make a list of the publications you like to read, and also the sites, magazines, and podcasts you’d like your product to get coverage in.
Once you’ve built up a list of at least 20 publications, you should go through each entry and try to locate the relevant contact details from their websites. More often than not you won’t be able to find a direct email address, it's usually a generic site wide address, use that for now — It’s better to have a generic contact than nothing at all.
If there's a certain journalist that you really like, or they have covered similar apps in the past, you should make it a priority to try and connect with them and build a relationship. Don’t be pushy, just be yourself.
Twitter is often a great place to start building these relationships, it’s much better to start or join a conversation on Twitter than send an email out of the blue as the first point of contact. There’s nothing worse than a cold email pitch.
Conferences are also an excellent place to meet and be introduced to members of the press. If you can make it to conferences like NSconf, Çingleton, and especially WWDC, I’d highly recommend it. You’ll learn a bunch of stuff, while also making some great contacts.
Journalists are always looking for interesting stories, they want topics and apps that will drive traffic to their site, they are not there to do free marketing for you. Having a great story about your company or app can open a lot of doors. Just remember to be respectful of their time, only reach out with truly newsworthy items — you'll get a better response and a lot more respect that way.
If you do get a response from a journalist, keep the conversation going where possible and work on building a rapport with them. Remember to keep your press list updated, make a note of who’s a good contact and who never responds to your emails. This will give you a good overview of how much coverage you’ll get next time you’re planning a launch.
There’s no reason why you can’t start building a press list today, your business will see the benefits almost immediately, best of all, the longer you maintain and update it the more valuable it will become. Don’t leave it until later, start now.