How to Write Pitch Subject Lines That Get Results

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When it comes to sending PR pitches, your email could be offering a journalist the scoop of a lifetime. But if it isn’t complete with a kick ass subject line that grabs attention, it will never get opened. 

Mastering the art of the email subject line means knowing which words to avoid, when and how to use personalization, and making sure the most important information goes first. There’s no one size fits all approach or algorithm to follow to ensure your emails get opened, but we’ve outlined the key lessons you need to know to write a great subject line to give you the best shot at success. 2019 data from email marketing tool Mailchimp suggested that the average email opening rate in public relations is 21.02%. This is close to the average across industries of 21.33%. But by fine-tuning your subject lines, you will find that this stat can significantly increase in your pitching reports.

Why Subject Lines Matter

Subject lines always matter whether it’s in public relations or any other industry. Not only does it sum up your email and give a preview of its contents, but it helps busy people prioritize their inbox and decide what needs opening. The subject line is your shot to convince the receiver to read further. When you’re shooting a cold email especially, it’s the most important part of the whole communication.

 

Use Influential Words And Avoid Spam Filters

In some cases, there is a science behind the art. The words you use in your subject lines can be the difference between making it into the main inbox or going to spam. Words such as “now”, “simple”, “you”, “success”, “new”, and “exclusive” all create a similar effect of excitement and urgency, and are among the commonly listed words that prove effective at getting emails opened.

At the same time, there are certain words that can trigger spam filters and guarantee that your emails will never even be seen, let alone opened. This includes words like “deal”, “debt”, “discount”, and “low price”. As a PR professional, you want to make sure that your subject lines make your news or clients exciting, but refrains from looking like a marketing email.

Why You Need A Call To Action

Being a publicist and a PR professional means silently competing against the hundreds of other PR pitches that land in journalists’ inboxes every day. One of the most powerful tools in your arsenal is that you can offer a call to action in every pitch you send out. Sending out PR pitches with “Interview opportunities”, “Samples”, or “Review opportunities” is a great way to show a journalist that you can bring value to them. This might mean offering your client as an expert who can comment on recent news, or asking a journalist if they would like to review samples of a product you are working on (because everyone loves free stuff, right?).

Putting this call to action front and center of your email subject means that you are immediately setting your pitch apart from the others by clearly offering something of value to the contact.

Think About Your Preview Snippet

The character number of your email subject line is very important. It should be concise and catchy so that key details don’t get cut off, with the most important information first. It’s also important to keep them short as some people will be reading off their phones. Mailchimp recommends no more than 9 words and 60 characters.

Your preheader text, the snippet of the email body that recipients will see before opening, is also important in previewing important information. 100 characters is a good rule of thumb to stick to.

Avoid Looking Too Spammy

It’s only normal that at times we can feel a bit desperate, and you just know that your pitch would be a hit if only someone gave it a chance. But you don’t want to get the reputation of being the spammy PR who never delivers on their subject lines. Subject lines that either look like spam, or trigger spam filters include phrases like: “THIS IS NOT SPAM”, “ACT NOW”, “[NAME], YOU NEED TO READ THIS”. Your pitches will garner far more respect and attention if they are punchy, eye-catching, and accurate. Avoid looking spammy and you will steer clear of the dreaded spam filters.

Click Bait is NOT Cool

In a similar vein, clickbait emails also won’t get you very far, especially if they don’t deliver on their subject line promise. Subject lines that include phrases like “ONCE IN A LIFETIME”, “UNBELIEVABLE STORY”, ‘YOU’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS”, “YOU REALLY SHOULD OPEN THIS”, may seem like a good idea in theory, but journalists have seen it all before. Not to mention that 9/10 times when someone does give that kind of subject line the benefit of the doubt, it doesn’t include a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Showcase Your Hook

When pitching to news journalists, they are looking for exciting stories that haven’t been published anywhere else. By showcasing the hook of your story in the subject line, as if it were a headline, you are showing them from the get-go that you have something truly of value to offer. Not every pitch will have a news hook, but when you do, you must use it to your full advantage. You should also highlight what kind of story it is, for example “Local enterprise story”, or “Real-life exclusive”.

Go Cheesy or Factual?

Just because you are avoiding looking spammy and clickbaity, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your subject line when appropriate. If you have a weird and wacky story, a fun product, or something that warrants a pun, don’t be afraid to lean into it! Opportunities to do something different with your subject lines don’t come around every day, so don’t shy away at the opportunity to give your recipients a chuckle.

Caps Or No Caps?

Capitalizing your whole email subject line can come off a little strong. If you are going to use capitals, do it sparingly—maybe save it for your call to action or news hook. However, a good email subject line should also stand alone without caps. You also don’t need to capitalize every word in the subject line, but if you do, make it consistent.

What’s in a Name?

When working in PR, it’s not always the best idea to put your recipient’s name in the email subject line— it can come across a bit too much like a marketing email. It can also feel too colloquial when there isn’t an established relationship there. However, readers are 26% more likely to open emails with personalized subject lines, so while a name isn’t necessarily the best route to go, there are other options.

Personalize as Much as You Can

If you have another way you can personalize your subject line, like a location, then use it! If you are highlighting a news story that has a strong relevance to the outlet’s DMA, then absolutely highlight it. Writing “Phoenix-based couple launch zero-waste food market”, is going to be far more interesting to a Phoenix news publication than a subject line that suggests the story could be from anywhere in the world.

Need to hire a publicist? Find out how Otter PR can help you write a great pitch with a kick ass subject line by booking a free consultation today

Hollie Geraghty

Hollie Geraghty

Hollie Geraghty is a versatile media professional with four years’ experience across journalism, content writing, social media and public relations. Specializing in entertainment, culture and the arts, she has written for national and regional publications in both print and online. In her spare time, she can be found ticking films off her watch list, and planning new travel destinations.
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