Creating solid, accurate media lists for pitches (or press releases) is a task that seems to stir up dread in our profession. I’m willing to admit that list building is often the item on my to-do list that gets carried over day after day because it can be so time consuming. The reality is that carefully crafted lists are critical to the success of our pitches—and they’re also a lot of work. It can sometimes seem like a catch-22, but there are ways to help ensure the process is fruitful. Because the truth is, cutting corners will often end up costing you in the long run.

Here are a few strategies we use to more efficiently create lists that are better targeted, and therefore more likely to get results.

1) Use a media database as a starting point only. List building can be an extremely time-consuming process. Yet, while it’s tempting to quickly pull a list by beat from a database like Cision or Meltwater, this tactic doesn’t always reveal the best contacts. In fact, while these kinds of services have their merits (we still rely on them daily), they can miss quite a few of the best contacts for a particular topic because they’re limited by the details in their databases. It’s okay to pull a large list by subject/topic, but be sure to check (via Twitter, LinkedIn, individual news sites) that the journalists returned in the search are actually the most appropriate contacts. And, be sure not to rely solely on a database search. There are likely additional (sometimes better) contacts that are found through other methods and can be added manually.

2) Build in enough time. Be realistic about how long pulling together a strong list will take and budget your time appropriately. Also, promise yourself that you won’t cut the process short, even when last-minute priorities and same-day requests pop up. An accurate and well-researched list is the foundation for your efforts. Even the best-written pitch sharing the most compelling story won’t go anywhere if you haven’t identified the right reporter for the story.

3) Expand and exhaust search options. Research is critically important when building a media list. Google and Twitter can help reveal journalists covering similar topics to what you’re pitching. But don’t stop there. If there are particular outlets you have in mind for a story, search relevant terms on the outlet’s page. Get a sense for how the topic has been covered in the past. It may not always fall under the beat you think. Many times, shifting the angle of your pitch without compromising the integrity of the story can open up additional pitching possibilities that you might not have considered before running those searches.

4) Remember, the number of contacts doesn’t need to be high. A list with hundreds of contacts might seem impressive, but you really only need a handful of the right contacts to be successful. Don’t get nervous if your list is short. Panic can lead to additions that aren’t relevant and could hurt your reputation with journalists. A truly well-researched list should get a response. If not, it may be time to find a new angle or reconsider the timing of your pitch, rather than adding contacts just to make your outreach seem more widespread.

If you have tips for honing lists, we’d love to hear about them. Share with us on Twitter or add your strategy to the comments section below. Together we can make the process less painful and get better results.