Catchy email subject lines are the most important thing you can write to get journalists’ attention. All other PR content — press releases, fact sheets, infographics — just won’t matter if reporters ignore your email.
Email subject lines are like news headlines. If you’re in marketing and PR, it’s your first shot to get your audience’s attention.
My main audience is journalists — I need a strong subject line to get reporters’ and editors’ attention in a story I’m pitching them via email. But the same holds true for capturing anyone’s interest via email.
The subject line must pack a punch by being short, timely, relevant, convincing, memorable, and teasing — containing just enough info to get someone to click open.
Subject lines are probably the hardest thing you’ll write. So here are a few tips to make your subject lines grab attention. These tips are based on hundreds of thousands of emails sent to journalists during my more than 20 years in PR.
Write Your Email Subject Line Last.
That’s right. LAST. After you’ve finalized your press release and after you’ve written your email pitch — the short message convincing a reporter that he should care about your news. By then, you should know your topic well enough to create one punchy phrase even your grandmother will understand.
Keep It Short.
No longer than eight or nine words. Yes, this is hard! Don’t try to tell an entire story in your subject line. Remember, it’s a TEASE to get the reporter to open your email.
Use ‘Newsy’ Words.
Your punchiest, newsiest words should be first. A compelling word or phrase from your press release belongs in your subject line. Recently, a client press release reported on the revenue Danger Zone hospitals face when insurance companies deny payment. I used the phrase Denials Danger Zone. And in a matter of hours, a reporter requested an interview with the CEO.
Another client subject line stated: COVID-19 worsens shortage of foster parents. Our team immediately got interview requests and we placed 12 news stories in less than one month! Here’s one of the reports — on WGN-TV.
Avoid a Company Name.
Unless you’re McDonald’s or Apple, a name alone won’t make a reporter open an email. Why? Because reporters care less about a company, and more about the newsworthiness of your expert.
Boring: Software Company XYZ launches new app that helps teens find work
Interesting: Teen-job seekers get help with new job-hunting app
Use Pop Culture References.
One of my subject lines referred to the box office hit, “Clear and Present Danger” when I pitched a story about a client’s software that spotted the bad guys’ names on terrorist watch lists. It resulted in this Wall Street Journal story!
Combine Praise with a Pitch.
Reporters are human, too. They love to get compliments just like you do. Your subject line compliment could be: “Great story today on solar power.” Be genuine and mention how their story impressed you. And then move on to the CEO interview you’re offering.
Combine Thanks with a Pitch.
I take the time to thank reporters who’ve done a great job working with my client. They will always open a thank you email. Plus they will welcome another story idea, since they need a steady stream of them and will likely pay attention to your next pitch.
If you’ve found these email subject line tips helpful, please share with others.
Or contact me to learn how an aggressive PR effort can give you the credibility boost to attract customers, grow your business or elevate your thought leadership.