On the Subject of Subject Lines…

Never underestimate the power of a well-written subject line. Aside from having an email address the reporter recognizes (and a good reputation), the subject line is the first impression you make on a reporter and plays a huge part in whether your email gets opened. Even if the reporter is familiar with your email address and knows from past experience your emails are worth reading, when on deadline, a poorly written subject line could get your email passed or trashed.

Here are a few tips for writing effective subject lines when pitching to reporters.

1.) Character Count: It Counts

A popular character count range favored by marketers is 35-39. There are some – including yours truly – who feel a 25-35 character subject line is more befitting, and I’ll show you why.

Below are three subject lines with character counts of 43, 34 and 21 respectively. Put yourself in a reporter’s shoes whose beat is “subject lines” (that IS why I’m sending you emails about subject lines) and tell me which email would stand out most in your inbox.

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2.) Name Dropping 

            There is no shame in dropping a name. In fact, a study by Inbox Marketer revealed a 31 percent open rate when the recipient’s first name was used.

Ex. “Molly, Great Subject Lines Start Here.”


            Using all caps can be obnoxious and is synonymous with “yelling” in the social media world, but they can help if the circumstances include the following.

1.)    The reporter knows you – It’s best if the reporter is more than a little familiar with you. All caps will catch their attention and if it happens to ruffle their feathers, all will be forgiven when they see the email is from you – the deliverer of always relevant and well-written pitches and press releases.

2.)    You know the reporter’s pitching deadlines – If you know the reporter you are pitching to sends his story ideas to producers today at 10 a.m. and you have an event tomorrow that you want covered, by all means, USE ALL CAPS. They need stories to pitch and as one producer told me, “It makes the reporter look better when they have stories to pitch.” So help out a procrastinating reporter and make your email/EVENT easier to find.

3.)    Because the reporter told you to- This is self explanatory, but in case it’s unclear: if the reporter gives you a specific subject line to use or specifically says, “use caps,” then use caps.


4.) Use Power Words

Certain terms can positively affect the open rate of emails. “Thank you” is probably the most effective in marketing, but when it comes to reporters the following words are powerful.

  • Event
  • Exclusive
  • “Their beat” ex: crime, recipes, technology
  • Holidays

Of course, only use these power words when relevant. If the story isn’t exclusive or relevant to a reporter’s beat, don’t say it is – unless you want to be blacklisted.

Hope you enjoy these tips – happy pitching.