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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