Your pitch is ready—but how’s your subject line looking?

by | Sep 29, 2017 | Analysis, Public Relations

When it comes to pitching a story to the media, we spend loads of time—hours, days, weeks even—conducting research and writing the pitch. We agonize over identifying target outlets and key editors at those outlets, poring over everything they’ve written since the dawn of time to better understand their hot buttons, and then using that knowledge to craft an amazing, perfectly targeted pitch.

In the last two minutes, just before hitting “send”, we turn to the subject line—the part of the pitch that must convince an editor that they have to open this email because it contains vital information. Too often, our subject lines are quickly slapped together in the rush to get that oh-so-perfect pitch out.

Subject lines are your opportunity to make a memorable first impression, the key element that ensures your email is read rather than tossed aside. A BuzzStream survey of 500 editors found that 85 percent of respondents decided whether to open pitches based on the subject line alone. Meaning, it’s critically important to put as much effort in to the subject line as the rest of the pitch. If your subject line falls flat, there’s a significant chance that well-crafted pitch will end up in the recycle bin.

Technology, for example, is the number-three most pitched vertical behind lifestyle and entertainment, and it’s safe to say tech journalists have an inbox full of must-read pitches at any given moment. So how will you ensure yours stands out? That your heartfelt pitch gets opened? It’s table stakes that your pitch is tailored to that reporter’s beat. After all, you’ve done the research there, right?

But when it comes to an open-worthy subject line, what else do you need to think about? Is it best to go with funny or straightforward, brief or detailed, bedazzled or boring? There’s a lot to consider and these three tips will get you well on your way to creating an open-worthy subject line.

Keep it short and sweet

OK, this seems like a no-brainer but it can be surprisingly difficult to capture the critical essence of your pitch in just a few words. Most inboxes display as few as 60 characters, and that number shrinks to about 35 characters on a mobile screen. And let’s face it, these days it’s highly likely that your email is being read on a mobile device. Given the limited amount of real estate, a subject line of six to eight words should be your goal.

But how do you get there? When you’re struggling to tell people what they need to know in as few words as possible, eliminate any words that don’t add value. When in doubt, leave it out. Look for frivolous detail and cut mercilessly.

It’s OK to be ho-hum

Yes, boring! Oftentimes, straightforward really can be your best bet. Though you may feel the need to jazz it up, in an inbox already littered with cheesy clickbait sticking to the basics can actually make your pitch stand out. But don’t just take my word for it – there’s a study showing this to be true. MailChimp conducted a study of 40 million emails and found that those with the highest open rates were the ones that got right to the point.

So what exactly does “boring” mean? Be clear and concise, and explicitly state your offer: “Company X Partners with Company Y to Offer Z”. Or, take your cue from this subject line in Simply Measured’s newsletter: “Introducing the 2016 State of Social Media Report.”

Appeal to your lizard brain

What does the oldest part of the brain, responsible for primitive survival instincts, that “flight or fight” reaction, have to do with subject lines, you ask? Well, when you are compelled to open an email with the subject “X did Y and you won’t believe what happened”, that’s your lizard brain taking over. Lizard brain works fast, making snap decisions in three seconds or less. It appeals to emotional response, which is five times faster than conscious thought. Think shiny object, loud noise, bright lights.

How can you put lizard brain to work for you? Leave something to the imagination and appeal to human’s innate need to know: “Silicon Valley Startup Attracts High Caliber Tech Talent.” Reporters will want to know who!

Now that you know what to do, here are a few things to avoid in your subject line: TYPING IN ALL CAPS, too. much! punctuation, cutesy language, being overly clever, and “free” offers.

The subject line can be the make-or-break piece of a pitch, so it’s important to put the time into developing a captivating reason to open. Because at the end of the day, if your emails aren’t getting opened, they’re not getting seen.

Melissa Power
As a senior program director at Interprose, and unofficial “closet engineer,” Melissa Power has become well adept at translating an organization’s objectives into a successful communications campaign. Melissa is dedicated to precisely identifying clients’ goals and employing an effective mix of communications tools—from traditional to digital elements—that get measurable results.


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