4 Tips for Crafting a Compelling Subject Line Journalists Want to Click
Does this scenario sound familiar? You’ve just spent a lot of time and effort on your press release, you’ve got an interesting story to tell, and you’re sure at least a few news outlets will write about it. But let’s get real for a second: no matter how well your press release is written, or how newsworthy its message might be, journalists and editors simply won’t care if you can’t get them to actually open and read the darn thing.
Brutal, I know. But successful PR isn’t just about your release; it’s how you present it to the media and convince them to turn a head for a few seconds. Nowadays, that means perfecting the subject line and body of your pitch email. If you can hook a journalist or editor with a well-crafted subject line, and keep them reading through your introductory email before they even get to the pitch, you not only gain a higher chance of having your emails opened more frequently, but also an increased possibility of publication.
Spending time on your email pitch’s subject line is crucial. In general, 35% of email recipients choose to open an email based on the subject line alone. So you can see how important it is! Improve the open rates of your pitches with these four tips:
Be specific and concise
Just like with your press release’s headline, you need to have a subject line that’s specific and concise to let the journalist know exactly what to expect. In general, this means your subject line will summarize the entire message of your press release. Check out these examples of subject lines that are specific and concise (just imagine your name and the names of real brands here):
- Beauty Company Signs Influencer X as Brand Ambassador
- Influencer Y Raises $1 Million For Awesome Charity
- Influencer Z, Digital Studio Partner for Original Series
Bonus tip: If you can include exact numbers or statistics, like the $1 million example above, do it. Journalists love numbers as stories which boast unique or impressive statistics tend to do well readership- and sharing-wise.
Use active verbs
Pay close attention to the examples given in the last point. Do you notice anything similar about them? It’s the verbs. None of them are passive; in grammar terms, that means none of them are forms of the verb “to be,” none of them are vague terms like “shows,” and none of them are doing something to something or someone else. Here’s what the same subject lines listed above would look like if they were written in passive, something you should avoid at all costs:
- Influencer X Is New Brand Ambassador for Beauty Company
- $1 Million Raised By Influencer Y for Awesome Charity
- Original Series Shows New Deal Between Influencer Z, Digital Studio
Yuck. Just yuck. Instead of using passive like these examples, provide as exciting and compelling verb choices as possible in your subject lines. “Signs,” “raises,” and “partner” are all far more interesting here than “is,” “raised by,” and “shows.”
Keep it short
Another good rule of thumb for your subject line is to keep it as short as possible. This is not just to generate a reader’s interest; it’s also a practical way of ensuring your subject line isn’t cut short by the journalist’s email provider. And with the rampant use of mobile, it’s even more likely your target reporter will be opening an email using a cell phone, which increases the chance of the subject line being cut off early.
Most email marketing experts and brands recommend keeping subject lines to 50 characters or less (around 5-10 words). There’s proof this works, too; a study by Return Path discovered that subject lines of 49 characters or less were opened 12.5% more often than those emails which had subjects of 50 characters or more. Not only that, but click-through rates (i.e. when an reader clicks on a link within your email) were 75% higher with shorter subject lines than longer ones!
Avoid unnecessary descriptions
One way to tick off a journalist is by trying to “impress” them with wordiness or descriptions that are likely nothing more than you projecting your opinion onto the pitch in the hopes of making it juicier and buzz-worthy (i.e. looking like click-bait). Using the same examples from before, here are the kinds of subject lines which make your pitch look more annoying than interesting:
- Innovative Beauty Company Signs Beloved Influencer X as Hot New Ambassador
- Fan-Favorite Influencer Y Raises an Impressive $1 Million for Best Charity Ever
- Influencer Z, Digital Studio Partner for Game-Changing Original Series
As such, you should avoid using any adjectives and adverbs. Doing so makes you look a lot more professional and less, well… self-involved. You also need to avoid making any claims you can’t actually prove; for example, just because you might think it’s the Best Charity Ever doesn’t mean that’s true or can even be proven.
Following these four tips will help you improve your subject lines for all your email pitches. The better you get at writing subjects, the more likely you are to see better open rates, and even publication acceptance. Worse comes to worse, you can resort to crazy, funny subject line alternatives like “Story idea you probably won’t care about” or “please, please, please open this email” (more of these hilarities can be found here). You never know — if you send one of these to a journalist or editor on a day they happen to be in a good mood, they could open it!