Right on the Money: Turning lists into media & marketing opportunities

July 29, 2022

Did you ever put something out into the world that got no attention and felt like a waste?

In May, Money.com (formerly Money Magazine) provided a blueprint for turning almost anything into relevant and timely content to drive media coverage, create high-quality digital content, and improve SEO. 

And all they did was create a list.

Money’s list of America’s best colleges

Each May, just as millions of students and their parents prepare to tour colleges, Money releases its list of the Top 25 Best Colleges in America. The list is a winner for the company because it has four key components: 

  1. It’s relevant and valuable, as college costs rise and student loans continue to be a political flashpoint.
  2. It’s well-researched, using 24 data points to whittle America’s thousands of colleges and universities into a list of just 25 institutions. Money has also made its methodology public, which makes validating its research quite easy.
  3. It’s about organizations (institutions of higher education) and people (students), not things (best pizza toppings, top new tax laws, or best house maintenance tips).
  4. It stands out from the pack because of its timing and focus. 
    1. U.S. News & World Report’s list comes out at the end of the summer, so Money is not competing for attention. 
    2. Money prioritizes data points related to student debt load and graduates’ income. This fits with its brand and with the concerns of its target audiences. 
    3. By coming out just as students are planning college visits, the list is probably hitting inboxes and eyeballs before families have made their final plans.

Of course, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, it doesn’t matter how loud we think the crash was. Therefore, Money also had to make sure its target audiences knew about the list.

Turning a list into a surround-sound success

If you’ve been to a movie theater in the last 40 years, you’ve experienced surround-sound marketing and branding. Speakers dedicated to the bass, mid-range, and high-frequency sounds of the film’s music, dialogue, and background immerse you in what you’re seeing and hearing. You become consciously and subconsciously absorbed because of the precise way all of the elements are weaved together.

Money’s list didn’t just get great press, or get a lot of social media posts, or end up on many college and university websites. It secured all of the above, earning its list and website massive readership, improved SEO, and much more. We also suspect that each of the top institutions announced their placement in emails to target audiences like donors, current students, prospective students and their parents, and alumni – putting Money’s name in front of tens or hundreds of thousands of additional people.. 

Here are a few samples of each, representing dozens or hundreds of other examples. 


MLive is a Michigan-based media outlet. They ran an article about all of the Michigan colleges which made Money’s list. A local news outlet in Illinois likewise covered how the University of St. Francis made the list. And an education trade publication covered the release of the entire list

Social media

The University of Illinois was #7 on Money’s list. The university bragged about its placement on Twitter, as did #1 University of Michigan alumni Dave Lambert

Website content

The University of Michigan made sure to put its #1 status on its website; #2 University of North Carolina Chapel Hill did the same

Making Money’s success your own

All else being equal, lists about people and organizations have more traction than lists about things, because things don’t care. Pepperonis don’t have Twitter accounts; millions of people and organizations do. And every time someone brags about being on a list, the list is being validated without you having to say a word. Notice how many of the surround-sound successes listed above came from those on the list, like the University of Michigan and its alumni, not from Money itself.

Here are a few great list ideas:

Top 10 media outlets in (geographic area or industry niche)

Eight best restaurants in (geographic area)

12 most profitable businesses in (geographic area or industry niche)

15 best (individual types – actors, actresses, athletes, mayors etc.) in (name your entity – Major League Baseball, Hollywood, Broadway, small cities, etc.)

Here’s how to promote them:

  1. Offer trusted media outlets first shot at covering your list. 
  2. Send out a press release to the relevant industry gatekeepers at the top outlets in your targeted demographic. 
  3. Post the release on your site, and send it to your email newsletter, to drive website traffic and improve SEO.
  4. Post on social media to drive engagement, spread the word organically, and micro-target with ads.
  5. Ask influencers to endorse your list. A professor of law could endorse a list of top lawyers, while an ESPN announcer would be great for the 15 best professional athletes. 
  6. Directly contact each honoree on your list. Don’t assume they will see their names on their own.

Relevant, well-researched, and well-timed: Right on the Money

When high school students and their parents trek across the country college visits this summer, they’ll have a lot of questions. But Money has already answered one of the most important: which institutions are worth the price? 

Well, now we have one answer. And because it was relevant, well-researched, and well-timed, the answer was right on the money for excellent press, social media coverage, and more. 

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