The secret tips for email subject lines publicists DON’T want you to know

Email subject lines in pitches are one of the most important parts of the pitch. You can write the best pitch in the world, but it won’t matter if no one opens your email. The industry standard open rate for PR email pitches is 20 percent, but here at Zilker Media we generally hit around a 30 percent open rate. Here are our top 10 secrets for getting your email opened.

1. Brainstorm!

I never go with my first subject line idea. Write a good subject line, and then think of 3-5 more. Then go with the best one, or a combo of the best ones.

2. Experiment!

If I have a couple subject lines I think are really good, I’ll A/B test them on different lists.

3. Make the subject line sound like a great headline.

Help journalists do their job by creating a great headline so they don’t have to! For more tips on how to create a great headline, we love this list from NPR!

4. Size doesn’t matter.

A good rule of thumb is to use 10 words or less in a subject line, because most inboxes reveal approximately 60 characters of your email subject line (and less on mobile).

One good strategy is to write a subject line as long as you want and THEN cut it down, rather than trying to think of a super short subject line first.

But sometimes I just go crazy and send the long subject line. PR requires a bit of experimenting sometimes!

5. Spell it out!

Why try to hide the fact that you’re sending a pitch? One of the best pitches I ever wrote simply had the subject line: “Expert pitch for Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5 – 9).”

Putting “Expert pitch” or just “pitch” in a subject line spells out for the reporter exactly what your email is. Another great point from Walker Sand communication is that putting “Pitch” in an email is often the deciding factor in whether or not an email will go to spam:

If you’re pitching a story idea with expert advice on ways to get visitors to a Web site, for example, “Story idea: How to get traffic to your Web site” will probably be more effective than “How to get traffic to your Web site,” which reads more like a sales pitch or junk mail.

You can also use “Interview” or “Story idea” — like this subject line: “Interview? Physician shares story of burnout and recovery, helps other doctors thrive.”

If you’re pitching a guest or contributed article, put “Submission” in the subject line. For this Business Insider post, my subject line was “Submission: How to start your day off for success – A neurosurgeon shares his simple-but-effective morning routine.” (Notice this subject line is 15 words long.)

…but don’t put “opp” in the subject line. This was something I was taught as a newbie PR person. “Opportunity” gets stuck in spam folders, so we used the abbreviated “opp.” In my opinion, “opp” is starting to feel outdated. Do you still use opp in subject line? Fight me in the comments below!

6. Use those awareness day tie-ins!!

PR pros have a love-hate relationship with the dreaded awareness days. But if you ARE pitching around one, be sure to put it in the subject line.

7. Don’t use weird jargon or overly vague words.

If a word is confusing and doesn’t make sense — or needs a ton of context to make sense — don’t use it! Subject lines should be as clear and specific as possible. In a MailChimp study looking at 40 million emails, they found that emails with the highest open rates were the ones that were simplest and got straight to the point.

8. Avoid “unique” and “innovative.”

This may just be one of my pet peeves, but don’t use these words unless something is ACTUALLY truly unique or innovative.

9. Leverage those well-known names.

Recently we pitched a book that was endorsed by Steve Forbes, so we used the subject line: “Steve Forbes calls this book ‘Bold and Transformational’ – interview?” We wanted to use the endorsement to our advantage but putting the big name as the very first thing you review. We also used “interview” in the subject line here.

10. Similarly, try to credential your client as much as possible in the subject line..

Some real-life Zilker Media examples:

  • “MIT professor”
  • “Princeton neurosurgeon”
  • “Top surgeon”
  • “Hall-of-fame wrestler”

Yes, even adding “top” in front of “surgeon” makes a difference. Obviously, don’t use this unless your client has the credentially info in their bio info to back-up the claims.

Every PR pro has their own strategies — do you disagree with me on any here?

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