“[The] subject line is everything. Without a good one, you’re dead.”
These words were sent to us by Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief for The Intercept, three years ago. They succinctly describe how hard it is to get into the press without taking the time to craft a great subject line.
Like business and nonprofit executives, media gatekeepers receive hundreds of emails per day. Most of them are statements, article pitches, op-ed submissions, and interview requests – dozens of requests for each potential slot that’s available.
They can’t take the time to read and respond to each one; nothing else would get done. Your media team’s job is to make sure your message gets through the noise, and that starts with the right subject line.
Best practices to create a great subject line
The most difficult aspect of creating an effective subject line is keeping it brief – you only have about eight words, and between 47 and 63 characters, to convey your message. But how do you make a great subject line?
Here’s what we do:
- Research the relevant gatekeeper(s). Do they prefer formal or informal language? Are you contacting an op-ed editor looking for “submissions,” or a reporter looking for “breaking” news?
- Describe your intentions. Op-ed editors need to know if you’re sending an “Op-ed pitch” and or an “Op-ed submission,” while reporters will want to know if you’re wanting an “Interview opportunity” or simply sending a “Statement.”
- Highlight important details, like “exclusive” opportunities, matters which are “time-sensitive,” and any important figures involved in your outreach.
- Turn conventional wisdom on its head or offer unique spin on a subject. Be eye-catching and inventive, not insulting.
- Make the topic relevant to the news cycle or calendar. For example, pitch an op-ed written by a CPA during tax season, not August. Irrelevance means your email is going in the trash.
Use all the words you need, and none that you don’t
In a sense, executives apply the same subject line principles as media gatekeepers. You respond to “Urgent” emails faster than others, and subject lines which mention certain clients and prospects will get more consideration than ones which seem less important.
Use all the words you need in a subject line. Just make sure they’re the right ones, because without a media gatekeeper’s support, you’re not going to reach your target markets. The subject line is your Trojan Horse to get through the door and into the press.