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How to make your subject line standout for email pitching

Sebastian Burchell from NovosSebastian Burchell in Digital PR

1st December, 2020

Structuring your subject line to grab media attention

Building links to your eCommerce site is one of the most important parts of SEO. While it’s possible to build links without emailing anyone, link building, or outreach is generally only possible with reaching out to websites, journalists or anyone who updates the content of a website you’d love your client to be on. Reporters and journalists from mainstream media claim to receive over 300 emails a day, so it’s essential that your email subject heading stands out. In this article, I’ll explore a few easy ways you can encourage journalists to open your pitches and secure those links you crave!

The 10-word rule

Arguably the most important rule when writing a subject line is to try and explain the main point of your pitch in 10 words or less. This is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, if you can’t explain your campaign in 10 words or less, then it’s probably too complicated. Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve created a content marketing campaign about football for your clients who designs and sells sports clothing online. You’ve decided to look at the most common colour of playing shirt for teams who are subject to dubious refereeing decisions. You’ve worked out that ‘Teams wearing blue are most likely to have penalties awarded against them’. Although this campaign seems to be relatively simple, it’s hard to sum it up in less than 10 words, indicating that journalists will struggle to create a coherent narrative for all readers. 

Instead, let’s try to simplify it even further, and look at which colour of shirts have won the most leagues in Europe – it’s red! Now’s the time to write the subject heading, ‘Football teams wearing Red win the most leagues’ – 8 words, perfect! Even though you may feel like you’ve unnecessarily made it more basic, the most simple campaigns tend to do the best.

As mentioned in my opening paragraph, journalists receive hundreds of emails a day so ensuring your subject header is less than 10 words means the journalist has one less excuse to ignore it, thereby increasing the chances of your recipient opening your pitch. Try and put yourselves in their shoes, would you prefer to open an email with a short, concise, yet to the point subject line, or a pitch with a long-winded subject heading that can’t even fit on the width of your laptop screen? I know which one I’d choose.  

Consider exclusivity

Perhaps an underrated method of link-building, but providing exclusivity can make your email subject line stand out for obvious reasons. Pitching exclusivity is when you offer a specific journalist your story, under the guidelines that they, and only they, will be able to cover the piece – sometimes for a certain amount of time. Pitching exclusivity doesn’t have to be exclusive to content marketing pitches either. For example, we’ve previously secured top tier links for eCommerce furniture clients, by reporting about their new products launches, office relocations, and funding rounds.

The majority of PRs shy away from pitching exclusivity as it suggests you will be resigned to the fact, your content will only be placed on one publication. However, say you haven’t received any responses and you have full faith in your piece, offering exclusivity can appeal to a journalist as it means any reader who wants to look at your piece has to go to their website. Simply by placing ‘Exclusive’ in the title, you’re telling the journalist that they have dibs!

Exclusivity can be used cleverly as well to gain more than one piece of coverage, as many journalists use certain publications as their source/inspiration for their own news stories. These journalists will often wait for the story to become ‘old news’ and rewrite it for their own website.

Use emojis ♥

Who hasn’t used an emoji before? Probably no one…We generally use emojis in instant messaging, to express or exaggerate emotions that our messages don’t necessarily purvey. But why should we solely limit them to Whatsapp, Slack and Instagram? 

The idea of putting emojis in email subject heading came from a speaker at a conference I attended, and although I questioned the need for it at first, the evidence speaks for itself. I split tested putting emojis, vs not putting emojis, in my email subject heading for a campaign last year about LGBTQ representation in popular TV for an online pharmacy. Using Buzzstream’s open rate tool (a tool that identifies how many recipients open your email), we found that 80% of the recipients opened the email with the emoji, compared to 40% who received the email without emojis in the subject heading.

So, why do emojis work in subject headings? First off, they visually stand out and immediately grab the recipients attention. Furthermore, they help to generate imagery and emphasise the main point of your message even further.

It is important to consider the type of journalist you’re trying to contact. For example, with the aforementioned campaign about LGBTQ representation, I targeted consumer lifestyle publications who regularly talk about social issues in entertainment – for these reporters, I included emojis because it fit in perfectly with their writing style and publication aesthetic. However, I also pitched to social justice journalists for traditional broadsheet publications and here, I chose not to use emojis. This was due to the lack of emoji, image, and multimedia usage in their previous articles. Even though emojis are great for making your pitch stand out, they can also give off the wrong impression to a particular audience. 

It’s essentially about simplicity and risks

Subject headings are arguably the most important factor when pitching for links. If your subject line isn’t up to scratch, your pitch won’t even be looked at. Keep your subject simple, be creative, and don’t be afraid to try something new if it’s not working. Using evidence and expertise will take you most of the way, but occasionally taking a risk might get your pitch noticed. 

If you would like to know more about link building strategies, I have written this article that can help you. For more tips, follow me on Twitter @SebBurchell

Sebastian Burchell from Novos
Article by Sebastian Burchell
NOVOS' Digital PR Manager, Seb has extensive experience working in the PR industry. He has worked in-house for brands as well as at PR agencies. He specialises in digital PR for eCommerce and B2C brands and has been behind some amazing award-winning PR campaigns.

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