Archive for October, 2011

Size DOES Matter (in a subject line)

Posted on October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

It seemed like the perfect pitch.  Concise. Enticing. Relevant. Just enough information to pique the interest of reporters. This is going to be big, I thought to myself.  Viral big.

I was wrong.

I waited a few hours, then checked in with the faculty member whose cool research I was pitching to see if he had received any direct calls. Then waited another day. Nothing.

I was disappointed and perplexed. I usually have a pretty good news sense and know what will take off.

So I did what any self-respecting public relations professional does: I complained to my colleague: “Why wouldn’t journalists be all over this?” “This pitch is great…I don’t get it!” Shannon politely pretended to listen and nodded her head then shook her head and continued typing, never once taking her eyes off the computer screen.

Then it dawned on me.  Maybe it’s not the pitch at all. Maybe it’s the subject line, that first impression of the pitching world. I’ve heard the rule of thumb is that a subject line should be no longer than eight words.  Sometimes I follow that, sometimes I don’t. And this time, I didn’t.

 So I tested that rule of thumb and not only shortened my subject line, but I enlisted the help of one of my superstar creative copywriter colleagues, Mike Roe, who’s known to make words sing. And he did.

 My subject line went from “Learning and remembering linked to position of hands, new research shows,” to Mike’s recommendation: “Learning by heart linked to hands, research shows.” (news release)

Not significantly shorter – 11 words to 8 words – but something about the snappy, casual quality of the new and improved subject line did the trick.  I re-sent to the same group of journalists and voila! Within ten minutes, I had responses from MSNBC.com, UPI and USA Today. 

Each of the reporters seemed as if they had never seen the pitch before.  Because they hadn’t. My original subject line was too long and not inviting enough and they hadn’t bothered to open the email.

So it’s true: size does matter – in subject lines.