7 Tips for Crafting a Winning Subject Line

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By Alex Altman
It might take two hours to write a press release, but it’s the five minutes you spend writing the subject line that matters most. In the lawless swampland of a journalist’s inbox, the decision to open or trash an email solicitation is made instantaneously. An email with a strong subject line has a fighting chance for survival, while a poorly crafted subject line is essentially dead on arrival.
According to a study by Silverpop, the unique open rate for emails in the United States in 2015 was a paltry 20.7 percent. In the Media & Publishing industry, the open rate was even lousier at 16.1 percent. While there’s no secret sauce that guarantees your email gets read, you can improve your odds by following these tips:
Buy NowInclude Call to Action: Exciting action verbs can help your email stand out from the pack, while teasing at what the story entails. For example, if your press release is about a new donut shop owned by LeBron James, the subject line could read, “Dunk donuts with LeBron.” This will help the journalist picture himself sitting at a table with the NBA superstar.
Be Clear and Specific: “When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.” This is the Mailchimp philosophy for crafting subject lines. Opening an email is a gamble for a time-strapped reporter, so a subject line that tells a story and doesn’t force the reporter to dig for it — like “Free Springsteen concert in Trenton” — will be more successful.

Luckily we are talking about headlines and not images. Though use them carefully!
Luckily we are talking about subject lines and not images. Though use them carefully!

Avoid Humor: Laughter might be the best medicine for people, but not so much for subject lines. “A funny subject line is probably the last thing I’ll open,” said Aaron Foley, an author and editor of BLAC Detroit Magazine. “They’re always try-hard or corny. I had someone pitch me with the subject ‘you just won the lottery!’ Couldn’t delete it fast enough.”
Localize But Don’t Personalize: Localizing a subject line with the name of a city can positively impact open rates, but personalizing with first or last names can actually depress them. Most journalists are wise to this email marketing trick.
Be Brief: Most experts agree that subject lines should contain fewer than 50 characters. More specifically, subject lines with 4-15 characters have the best open rates, while those with 51 characters or more have the worst. Think of it like changing your clothes in an airplane bathroom; it might feel cramped, but with enough creativity you’ll (usually) find a way to get the job done.
Be Urgent: “Fear of missing out” can be a powerful tool when crafting your subject line. Nobody wants to be the journalist that missed out on the popular story that competing media outlets covered. Express urgency to your recipient by conveying time sensitivity with words and phrases like “end of day.”
Avoid Visual Tricks: Some PR folks are tempted to use emojis, special characters and oTheR Vi$uaL Tr!cks to help their subject lines stand out from the clutter. Avoid this trap. Not only are these emails more likely to land in spam filters, but they are perceived by many journalists as a form of deceit.

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