The Best Guide for Writing Media Outreach Subject Lines that Convert — Pressfarm

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Media outreach can be tricky, especially if you do not get your emails opened by the journalists you are trying to reach during your PR campaign. It is possible that someone might read your email subject and immediately send that email to trash without thinking twice. If no one is opening your outreach emails then you have failed before you even get started. It is usually better if your emails are getting more opens which might translate to more reads and more replies depending on how your email pitch is written.

We send PR outreach emails to journalists every other day and for the last 5 years, we have learnt the secrets between what works and what doesn’t. However, the most basic rule is you canstat with is to be human — sounding like a robot on your subject line is your first failure. However, there is much more than that. This is our preferred guide on how to write subject lines that convert in your media outreach campaign.

1. Be upfront

One of the most important things to do when crafting your subject line is to be upfront. Do not try to beat around the bush. Journalists like subject lines that are upfront. Remember, they receive several emails throughout the day. They do not have the whole day to spend on yours.

A critical tip on how to be direct is using terms like “story idea”, “new story”, “press release”, “new research” etc. These terms give the journalist an ideal picture of what to expect when they read your email. It sets their mind up for an expectation which is great because expectations make the emails get opened.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 101: No beating around the bush. Get to the point and save you both some time.

2. Personalize the subject line

Don’t overthink this personalization thing. It is quite simple actually. You personalize the subject line by simply mentioning the journalist’s name. When you refer to them by name it breaks the ice that is between you two. The journalist gives you some benefit of the doubt because you cared to find out who they are. It shows that the subject line hasn’t been sent to a thousand other people. There is just something about being called by your name in an email.

This is why mass emailing journalists doesn’t work. When we were setting up Pressfarm in the early days, we had a lot of requests from our initial users to provide a way for them to mass download journalist contacts. For those who do not know about our tool, Pressfarm provides a platform where founders and entrepreneurs can search and find journalist contacts for media outreach during their PR campaigns.

We had to make it quite clear that we would not build that feature simply because that machinery way of contacting journalists is long dead and has never worked. We encouraged them to contact a journalist at a time in a controlled way. Over time they began to understand why because most of them were getting results and replies from journalists. One of the reasons is that when you are mass emailing,you cannot personalize the subject line. You only get to do that when you are reaching out to a journalist at a time.

Another useful tip for personalizing the subject line is to mention the journalist’s segment. For instance, if you are sending a story to a journalist that runs a segment called Tech Mondays, it is good to mention that your story is for Tech Monday. It might also be a journalist who runs a particular column in a publication, mention that column.

If we take the first two rules and put together a quick subject line about a recent survey that might interest a journalist name Davis who runs a segment called Tech Babies in a publication, it will look like this:

Davis — New survey data shows increased tablet sales for children [for “Tech Babies”]

  • Being upfront — we immediately tell the journalist that this is New survey data.
  • Personalization — we call the journalist by his name — Davis — and also mention that our data might be useful for his “Tech Babies” segment.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 102: Mentioning the journalist’s name or media segment shows that you know who you are writing to.

3. Make your story newsworthy

This is crucial. You need to ask yourself why your story should interest anyone at all — not necessarily the journalist. Why should people care about this thing you want to share? A newsworthy story gets media attention with very little effort. It gets the journalist’s attention with a well crafted subject line.

To find out if your story is newsworthy, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is my product idea truly groundbreaking?
  2. Have I gotten backing or funding from a big brand?
  3. Is this a new milestone for us and the industry?
  4. Is our research or survey data special enough to create some attention?
  5. Do we think this new column will be widely read?

All these questions are possible story angles for your media outreach. Each one of these questions if answered in the affirmative can be a story on its own. Newsworthy stories are usually really groundbreaking products or services, funding stories from big companies, new company milestones never seen before in the industry, new research or survey that could shift the market, or new column pitches that can get lots of attention.

When it comes to research or survey data, sometimes it is not really special but it could be data that helps the journalist back up his previous or upcoming story. When your company provides help with such data they definitely get a media mention in the story.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 103: Always pitch newsworthy stories because they create great subject lines that are attractive to open.

4. No over-promising on the subject line

As much as the attention of the journalist to you would be so crucial, it doesn’t help you if you over-promise and under-deliver. When writing that subject line ensure that you are managing your need for attention by promising only what you can deliver.

For instance, do not call a story, product, or service as “groundbreaking” or “never seen before” if you know that is not true. First of all, very few things are groundbreaking. Also, very few things have never been seen before. Don’t overestimate your story idea. When the journalist opens the email, they will read and realize it was just basic stuff from someone who over promise. Guess what happens after? Yes, your story immediately goes to the trash bin.

Don’t say “new data” if it is not new. Don’t call it a “research” if does not fit the term. Do not say your research shows something that it doesn’t actually show.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 104: Manage your need for attention by promising in the subject line only what you can deliver in the email body.

5. Avoid click-bait tendencies

Do not do click-bait things at all. It is unprofessional, irritating and earns you nothing other than a not-so-coveted position in the journalist’s spammers list. To avoid having subject lines with click bait tendencies, do the following:

  1. Get rid of emojis from your subject lines. Keep those in your phone for your family and friends.
  2. Stop writing your subject lines in CAPS. JUST STOP. Why are you shouting?
  3. Don’t use exclamation marks anywhere in that subject line. Believe me, the journalist doesn’t care how amazed or surprised you are!!!

You get the idea. Just be a sane and professional human being. Avoid click-bait sounding subject lines because these also break the over-promising rule. Usually, when you click on click-bait headlines online, you realize how unsatisfied you are by the actual story. You don’t want a reporter feeling like that about your email pitch.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 105: Avoid any click-bait tendencies in your subject lines: keep it professional and sane.

6. Pitching survey or research data key statistic

When pitching a survey or research data, you want to focus on the most important statistic from the data. You need to mention it on the subject line too.

This is because that key statistic might be your ticket to appearing in the news. However,it is useful to note that the importance of a statistic also depends on the person who is reading it. This is why it is important that you learn about a journalist before pitching them something. You need to be sure that your interpretation of the term “key statistic” is similar to theirs for you to pitch well. Without that, it will be like pitching the wrong thing to the wrong person and in all honesty doing a huge injustice to your otherwise important research or survey.

Once you have your key statistic in the subject line, get into it in that email body and dissect it further before giving other pointers of what other things the research shows.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 106: Mention the key statistic of your survey or research in the subject line to raise the journalist’s curiosity.

7. Short subject lines

It is always advised to keep the subject lines short and to the point. There is no specific word count that is perfect or works for everyone. However, ensure that the subject line fits fully in the recipients view. If you make it longer, they won’t read it and might delete the email without opening it at all.

You need to be specific, direct and to the point. With the struggle of being short with these you might find that you lose the journalist’s beat. Try and stick to their beat even when you shorten that subject line.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 107: Avoid subject lines that are too long. Short ones are fast to read and show that you know what exactly you are pitching.

8. Practice

Practice makes perfect. This statement is not a hoax. Practicing something long enough works quite well for training you to get good at it. When you start writing your subject lines, before settling on the final one that you will send, write a couple of them. Shorten them further to see which works better.

A lot of times when we are writing our subject lines we ask ourselves: What is so interesting about this story? What part of it does this journalist care about? How do we structure this so that it shows that interesting part?

While asking ourselves these questions, we jot down the subject lines depending on our answers to these questions. We then shorten them further and eventually settle on one. The more you send out media outreach emails, the better you become at those subject lines.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 108: Practice writing subject lines based on a set of leading questions that direct the story. Don’t settle on the first subject line you write.

9. Relate a subject line to a story they published

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Relating your subject line to a story the journalist published before gets you some email opens. If they published a story about something in the past and you have found out new information within the story angle, you might want to share with the journalist about that.

For instance, if they worked on a certain story about electric cars and your company has done research that brings to light particular information relating to that story, mention that in the subject line. Give a snippet of that new finding, and how it relates to the story they published before. When your subject line shows relation to their previous work, it also shows that you have been following the journalist’s work for sometime. And that is a good perception for them to have of you.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 109: Relate the subject line to a previous story that the journalist has worked on. It shows that you have been reading their work.

10. Indicate exclusivity

Who does not like being the first one to know something? Heck, I am not a journalist but I always love being the first one to break the news. When writing to journalists and you are giving them an exclusive story, mention on the subject line that the story is exclusive.

You might do that by just having this — [Exclusive] — as part of your subject line either at the end or at the beginning of it. Journalists love being the first one to break a story because it gives them an upper hand, speaks a lot about the quality of their sources, and gets their story and career some more attention. However, if you know the story is not exclusive or the exclusiveness of it is not really important based on the story’s importance, you shouldn’t claim the exclusivity badge. If you say it is exclusive, make sure it is exclusive and important or newsworthy.

Media Outreach Subject Lines Rule 110: If your story is exclusively sent to a particular journalist, let them know in the subject line. Journalists like to be the first ones to break the news.

Originally published at on June 25, 2019.

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