A Word to My PR Homies: On Subject Lines

Hey, holmes!

I hope you guys are liking this content so far. Honestly, this stuff keeps me awake at night. Seriously. It’s 4 a.m. right now, and I’m tormented by yet another so, so common issue that widens the divide between my kind (the journalists) and your kind (the hardworking PR flaks). We are in a symbiotic relationship; it should be one of love! But we snark about you, and you loathe us for being snobby and rude.

Let us, you and I, together bridge the gap.

And let’s start by working on that subject line for your press release, ok holmes?

Hokay. So.

Here is the issue we’re having today. I open my email this morning. Hah, ok, this afternoon. I work the night shift. “Morning” is just a Peer Gynt Suite movement to me.

So, I open my email, and my pretrained eyeballs go to the subject line area. Instinctively, like a puma, I make decisions in nanoseconds. Read it now. Read it later. Interesting. Useless. Trash it! Save it.

And this is what I see, on any given day:

Press Release: GeneriTech to Launch New Productivity App at …
News item – Intgrrr, a revolutionary iPhone app mashup for yo…
Hi! It’s your Mom!
Tweetsourcer finds the right crowd on Twitter
UnknownTech announcement of new round of funding, $2m fr…
Update: ¬†Initrode announces beta release of Firefox addon for t…

Ok, you PR pros. One of these things is not like the others. (No, not the Mom one, silly! My mom never emails me. You should get on her case about that.) First of all, one of them is a real subject line. Second, one of them is readable, interesting, and informative.

The subject line is the first thing I see. In an inbox with 1068 new unread messages (literally and exactly), I can tell you for a fact that a badly done subject line means I may never even see that email press release you worked on so very hard.

Remember our talk about ledes, wherein I told you that you have just one sentence to grab a journalist’s attention and interest to make sure your release gets read once it’s been opened?

Well, take a step back. How can they read that release if they’ve never opened the email?

Here’s how you get a journalist to open your email: Write an amazing, compelling subject line – EVERY TIME.

Word to My PR Homies #3: Write kick-awesome subject lines.

Here’s a little run-down of subject-line no-nos and yes-yeses:

  1. Don’t use all caps. It’s rude in chats, in email, on Twitter, and everywhere else. Yes, the subject line will stand out. Kinda like a Kiss fan at a tea party. Not good.
  2. Never, ever use the words “press release.” Also, refrain from “news item,” “please review,” or “for your consideration.” Don’t use anything like that. This is the most limited area of visual/mental real estate you’ve got to work with, so don’t waste it telling us stuff we already know.
  3. Get to the meat of the issue fast. This is not a marathon; this is a sprint. You have, generally speaking, less than a second to influence my decision-making process for the whole day. You want to be at the front of that line! The best way to do that is to give me the most critical information right away. It’s easier for everyone.
  4. Don’t pitch something that’s not newsworthy. That’s a bigger post for another day, but if the subject line reads that you’re making some minor upgrades to features for an app/site that doesn’t have huge traction, you’re either going to have to spin it like crazy or admit that it’s not really newsworthy and find another angle.*
  5. It’s all about the angles. Maybe the story is that your startup got another round of funding. Is there a better way of putting that? A more interesting side note that you could, you know, spin for us? (Here’s a side note for ya: I now totally want to start a PR school and call it Spin Class. Ouch. That even hurt me. </ End Pun>)
  6. Make it stand out. Don’t be afraid to get weird. Do you know how bored we all can get with checking our email? We will read, forward, and discuss a press release based on sheer oddity alone (see Louis Gray’s comment on my post about ledes, and notice how I knew exactly which press release he was talking about). If the app/site/product works in addition to the snappy subject line, you’re almost guaranteed a couple write-ups for the day.
  7. Tell us it walks on water. What’s the most miraculous thing about this client or product? Do you believe it’s awesome? Your enthusiasm counts. If you can tell me in all honesty that it’s amazing, and if you can tell me why, I’m right there with you. Another boring press release from a bored flak with a boring product on her poor, tired hands – all that adds up to a bored journalist with rapidly drifting attention. I want to know that you’re excited about it and dying to tell me all about it.

*And you and I both know that the possibility of a phone interview with or guest post from your CEO is not newsworthy. Unless my blog sucks or your CEO is one of the Big Guys with his own Wikipedia page and a spot on the Forbes billionaires list. That’s what I call news and marriage material. See? Now you have my interest on two counts.

My sweet PR friends, we are now out of time. But I know you’ve got it in you to send me some kick awesome subject lines today.

In conclusion, you’re bright, fun, energetic folks who have demanding jobs and the moxie to deliver amazing results. It takes a special personality to do what you do, so let that personality shine. Write a subject line that would make YOU would want to read that email. Be yourselves.

6 thoughts on “A Word to My PR Homies: On Subject Lines

  1. Thanks Jolie,

    Number one for helping out the hapless flacks become a lil’ more savvy and number two for not treating us like children.

  2. Like children? Hardly.

    Y’all work your butts off. I used to do in-house PR and marketing, too; it’s a tough, tough gig. I respect and admire PR folks an awful lot. =)

  3. I really appreciate articles like this, straight from journalists. You are absolutely right. We work so hard on the pitch and the press release then have a boring subject line. It’s all about creativity and believing that we really have something newsworthy. Maybe the pr pro is really not excited about the news they are pitching. It’s really a waste of time for both parties.

  4. As someone who is still pretty new to the PR game, I completely appreciate any advice I can get when it comes to pitching articles and communicating with journalists. That said, thank you for this gem! The next time I send a press release (or any email to a journalist for that matter) I’ll be sure to give it a more creative subject line.

    Tessa Carroll
    Marketing Assistant
    VBP OutSourcing


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