March 25, 2020
“Well, I, uh, don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.”
These words from Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) from the iconic film, Dr. Strangelove, could not be truer for when we pitch to journalists. When we create campaigns, we often look holistically at the project: what’s the story, what’s the asset, what are we linking to onsite. And yet, what is the first thing that anyone outside of the project sees?
I have spent many a time with a pitch all ready to go, but the cursor blinks in the empty subject line box, taunting me because I can’t come up with the perfect headline. Other times, you’re sat with a campaign that isn’t doing as well as you’d hoped. Instead of placing the blame on the idea as a whole, maybe we should be focusing our attention on the first thing journalists see – the email subject line.
Moreover, as Landis Ostroski, SEO specialist at LSEO, explains: “Many people make the mistake of pouring all of their efforts into only trying to build links but unless your site is properly optimized the links could be doing little to help you.” Well the same could be said for optimising your email subject lines. You won’t get the link unless someone clicks on your pitch.
Below, we will share some tools and techniques to refine your email subject lines and improve response rates.
Yes, the law of averages doesn’t exist, but let’s pretend anyways. A good campaign is not a one-size-fits-all. What I mean by that is that we don’t typically go for one angle or niche, so why should we focus on one subject line? Moreover, not every journalist operates with the same tone of voice or focuses on the same sort of stories even if they fall within the same niche.
Tailoring your outreach to journalists and outlets is critical, but it should extend beyond the actual body of the pitch. We don’t always have the time to tailor each press release accordingly, but we can rewrite the headlines in the subject lines to capture the right attention.
Pick some key journalists or outreach targets to analyse. Have a look into the sort of headlines that journalist or outlet typically uses. Are they long? Are they punny? Are they short without any fuss or fluff? Are there any specific buzzwords or subject areas that you can tap into to draw their attention?
Sonia Weiser, a freelance journalist from New York, says:
“If the subject line shows that the email pertains to my areas of interest then I’ll open it. That’s really the biggest thing.” In fact, personalised subject lines improve response rates by 30.5%
Take your findings and group them into different subject line categories. For instance, if outreaching to national publications, refine your categories to broadsheet and tabloid. After all, The Sun and The Guardian will have totally different target audiences and tone of voice. Use that to your advantage.
Once you’ve come up with some subject lines, it’s time to test them. I recommend running them through a tool such as Email Subject Line Grader. This way you can foresee any issues with your subject line and make it as effective as possible.
Other tips for your subject line:
Once you run a few series of trials, you’ll quickly catch on to what formula works for you in coming with a pitch subject line. For instance, I like using the word “revealed” when I can usually when a study or survey provides an important insight for the journalist.
Data points that are particularly significant are also useful. For example, Glen Davies, Senior PR and Online Media Relations Specialist, found himself stuck with a bit of a dry business-focused press release regarding a company’s annual results. The original headline was: “New services and management help XXXX to improve revenue for previous 12 months”. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but fine for a title of a press release. After weeks of crickets, he tweaked the email subject line and found “XXX doubles turnover in 2013” worked wonders. Local business and trade press picked it up, and even journalists who hadn’t responded before, sent an email across.
In essence, you don’t always need to go back to the drawing board to get results. Sometimes it’s just about finding the right six or seven words to get someone’s attention.
For more information on our tried and tested approach to Digital PR and Outreach, feel free to get in touch!