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11 best practices for an effective email subject line

By Lindsey Chastain

Grab journalists' attention, spark engagement, and get your messages opened with these tips.


A woman writing an email title.Getting the attention of a busy journalist is the first and most crucial step to ensuring your message stands a chance against the competition to earn media coverage. With some strategic planning and tested best practices, you can craft email subject lines that grab attention and get your pitch past the first step. 


Here are 11 tips for writing email subject lines and templates that will ensure your email is opened and read:


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1. Focus on relevance. 

The most fundamental key to a successful subject line is relevance to the recipient. Target each email to recipients who would logically care about that specific message. Avoid blasting the same subject line to everyone on your list. Segment your lists into categories, such as industry, beat, and geography, and customize accordingly.


2. Lead with timeliness.

Nothing catches a journalist's eye like a timely news hook. If possible, put a time element right up front linking your pitch to something currently happening in the world. Some examples are “Today: X Company Rolls Out Y Product” or “Analysis: What the Infrastructure Bill Means for Z Industry."


3. Spark curiosity.

Subject lines formulated as intriguing questions can effectively pique interest and entice opens. For instance, "Are Locked Crypto Accounts About to Be Unlocked?" invites curiosity without overpromising.


4. Keep it clear and simple.

While creative wordplay has its place, resist the urge to be too clever or vague. Straightforward subject lines consistently prove effective, especially when targeted narrowly. “Affordable Housing Development Breaks Ground in Charlotte” gets right to the point.


5. Call out recognizable names.

If your pitch involves well-known experts, brands, or personalities in a given niche, put their names front and center. For example, “Aziz Ansari’s New Netflix Comedy Special Tackles Workplace Sexism” taps into existing familiarity.


6. Offer teasers.  

Another attention-grabbing formula is to highlight the person at the heart of the story. “Teen Saves Dad’s Life with CPR” provides an intriguing narrative angle.


7. Include specific calls to action.  

Many successful subject lines start with the action being proposed — “Story Idea: Surviving Holiday Stress.” While ultra-short CTAs can seem abrupt, pairing them with explanatory detail is effective. 


8. Localize the angle.

Customizing regionally helps subject lines feel more targeted, even when sending to broader media lists. “Affordable Housing for Midwest Seniors Breaks Ground” distinguishes it from competing pitches.


9. Try repeatable formulas. 

PR pros who consistently secure high engagement rates often have go-to subject line templates they apply across clients. Identify structures that perform well for you and reproduce the pattern.  


10. Avoid tricks.

Refrain from tactics like falsely inserting “Re:” or “FW:” to mislead recipients into thinking they are part of an existing email chain when they’re not. Transparent subject lines improve long-term journalistic relationships.


11. Keep testing. 

Regularly track open and response rates to determine optimal subject line length, wording styles, and formulas. Refine based on solid data rather than guesses. Experiment across client campaigns with small tweaks to see an impact.


Crafting subject lines that get opened takes both art and science. Following these tips and proven templates will set your emails apart in the inbox. Pay close attention to what resonates best with your target journalists and continue iterating. With the right combo of precision and creativity, your emails will get read.

For more information about how we can elevate your PR strategy, contact us today or book a one-on-one consultation.


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Photo by Christina Morillo

Topics: PR tips, copy editing

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