Making a List, Checking It Twice

Lists are a longtime media staple. Lists are a good way to get attention for your organization. For media outlets, a list provides content that can provoke readers, listeners and viewers to offer feedback. For those seeking coverage, a list assembled or created by your organization can get your name mentioned and may lead to follow up coverage.

The two main types of lists for media consumption are (1) empirical lists, which are based on real data and (2) arbitrary lists, which are based on opinion. Many media outlets list the weekend’s top movies each Monday morning—that’s empirical data. (Actually, those box office figures are studio estimates, but they are usually quite accurate.)

The arbitrary lists are the ones that are more likely to generate discussion. Entertainment Weekly magazine has published tons of arbitrary lists during its two-plus decades—some brilliant, some laughable. A newspaper or magazine’s list of top restaurants, lawyers, golf courses, donut shops, etc. can help establish credibility and awareness for those listed. They also, inevitably, elicit complaints about who got left off the list.

For PR pros, a list that you deliver to media has the potential to bring your organization into the spotlight. If your client is, say, an accountant, his or her Top Ten End of Year Tax Tips could be worth a segment on talk radio or a blurb in a newspaper business section. If your client is a hot dog vendor, a list of his Top Ten Condiments might resonate with food media types.

Lists are also a major component of blogs. Therefore, I’d like to digress slightly and offer my list of the Five Most Worthless Lists:

  1. Any Men’s Health magazine list. How can a city go from 3rd to 7th on the Fattest Cities list in a year? Their lists are totally fabricated, but media always give them big play.
  2. Movie Year-End Top Ten lists by critics who try to “out-obscure” other critics (and readers) by listing movies that most people have never seen and never will see. Useless.
  3. David Letterman’s Top Ten List. In the 90’s, the nightly lists (which originated as a parody of our obsession with lists) were hilarious. Now, the Top Ten List is just “fill in the blank” comedy writing and not nearly as funny as some of those to be found online.
  4. Any online list whose primary purpose is to generate page views by making you click on a new (often slow-loading) page for each list entry. These are generally not worth the trouble.
  5. Lists of All-Time Greats compiled by votes from the public. People have short memories. Yes, icons are forever (note Sean Connery’s generally being chosen as Best Bond), but recent favorites tend to out poll outstanding movie stars, pro jocks, presidents, cars, etc. from decades past.

To my media friends, keep sharing and making lists. They can be entertaining and informative. But use good editorial judgment and weed out the weaker ones.

To my PR friends, try creating and sending a list to your list (of media contacts). If it’s good content, it could get you and your client some media love.

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