The Gong Blog

Standing out from the Spam: Crafting pitch subject lines


For good or for bad, lots of media relations is done by email. We need journalists and producers to open and respond to our email out of the hundreds that they receive each day – and beyond straight pitches, we’re competing against real life – stories they’re actively working on, demands from the boss, even emails from the spouse about home stuff. It’s tough to be seen among such volume, and so we media relations folks examine (read: obsess about) everything: What’s the best time to send an email? How much follow up is right? Is the pitch short enough? Are we as on target as we really think, or is there someone better?

These days, within hours we can tell which Facebook ad is optimizing well for a social media client, but there isn’t such instant feedback available for media relations pitches. Short of hard data, though, here’s what I know regarding approaches to pitch subject lines: 

Twitter is your friend

Spend a few minutes looking at someone’s feed before you pitch, even when you’ve already read/seen previous stories to know they are a good fit. (Yes, read those, too!) Twitter might reveal if their favorite sports team won this week (Go #Seahawks), if they’re at a conference or if they’re mad about the weather. Reference any tweeted clues in a subject line and in the opening sentences of your email, and you’ll show that you’re pitching another human being, not being robotic about the process. You never know what little thing will begin a relationship or expand on one that’s started.

Reference a recent story

Show that you’ve read their work. A format that can work in this way is “From [insert subject of recent article] to [client issue]. Just today, I wrote a subject line that said “From real estate apps to car insurance tools.” I found a freelancer who writes for a business journal network, and after reading a current piece, I wanted to let him know about a car insurance website should he do a similar round up story down the line. Granted, he is a totally new contact for me, so I don’t yet know if I will break through. But hopefully the reference of today’s story will open the door a crack and begin an exchange.

Demonstrate your knowledge/offering

Anne Fisher, who writes small business resource pieces like this for CNNMoney and is known for her “Ask Annie” column, is a PR person’s saving grace because she does manage to read at least the first few lines of all of her email. (THP thanks you, @anbfisher!) That puts a little less pressure on having the perfect subject line, but you can help yourself, Anne tells me: “A subject line that says, ‘[Type of company] founder tells how s/he manages remote workers’ (or finds cheap office space, or…whatever the biz owner's pet topic may be), for instance, will *always* cause me to drop everything to read that email.”

And so, we’re back to needing to be on target again – knowing a person’s coverage areas and fitting within that framework. Yes, being an “informed pitcher” is rule number one. That said, after you work so hard on the pitch itself, what are your own guidelines and tricks for a subject line that gets an open? 

(Photo by freezelight on Flickr.)

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POSTED IN: Media Relations, Public Relations

Stacey Brucia

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1 Comment

  1. Public Relations: The Early Days (aka The 1980s)

    […] And, of course, once you have those addresses, it’s easy to shoot a quick email to see if your story idea piques their interest. This does not mean to suggest that media relations has gotten any easier as a practical matter. Yes, the tools are more efficient and timely, but the competition is still just as fierce. Reporters tell us that hundreds of email pitches a day can find their way to their email in-boxes, and so breaking through that competitive clutter means ensuring that your pitch is compelling, that it’s being sent to the right reporter and that it’s personalized in a way as to resonate with that particular reporter or outlet. […]

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