Chromatin-binding proteins must navigate the complex nuclear milieu to find their sites of action, and a constellation of protein factors and other properties are likely to influence targeting specificity. Despite considerable progress, the precise rules by which binding specificity is achieved have remained elusive. Here, we consider early targeting events for two groups of chromatin-binding complexes in Drosophila: the Male-Specific Lethal (MSL) and the Polycomb group (PcG) complexes. These two serve as models for understanding targeting, because they have been extensively studied and play vital roles in Drosophila, and their targets have been documented at high resolution. Furthermore, the proteins and biochemical properties of both complexes are largely conserved in multicellular organisms, including humans. While the MSL complex increases gene expression and PcG members repress genes, the two groups share many similarities such as the ability to modify their chromatin environment to create active or repressive domains, respectively. With legacies of in-depth genetic, biochemical and now genomic approaches, the MSL and PcG complexes will continue to provide tractable systems for understanding the recruitment of multiprotein chromatin complexes to their target loci.