Category: General

Open Secrets: What Makes Email Subject Lines Work?

In a series of “think-aloud” studies in 2011, the Carnegie Mellon professors asked participants to sort through emails in their own inboxes and in inboxes developed for the study.

The results? Readers were most likely to open emails with subject lines focusing on:

1. Utility, or relevance: People are most likely to open emails when the subject line focuses on “information I can use to live my life better.”

2. Curiosity: Carnegie Mellon is heavily invested in “knowledge gap” research. That is, once people know what they don’t know, they’re eager to close the gap. So this study tested emails with vague subject lines, not entertaining ones.

Curiosity worked when recipients:

  • Knew who the email was from but were uncertain about the contents
  • Understood the contents because of a detailed subject line but were unfamiliar with the sender

Utility was more effective than curiosity in getting emails opened. And the more emails recipients received, the less effective curiosity became.

The researchers did not look into the effect of interesting, or feature-style, subject lines. I suspect that engaging subject lines that raise interest in the topic, but don’t spell it out clearly, would also be effective.

But unless your reader knows you personally and will be driven to open your message solely based on your relationship, I do not recommend using vague or empty subject lines.

Given the research, here are three ways to make your subject lines more effective:

1. Focus on readers’ self interest.

The best subject line I received last year came from Portland Monthly’s Shop Talk e-zine. It said: “Talk to Tim Gunn | Free Kiehl’s Product | Bad Mall Photos.”

You had me at Tim Gunn!

Opportunities, offers and discounts drive the most opens, according to Lyris Technologies. So focus on what’s in it for the recipient, not what’s in it for you, the sender.

2. Make it interesting.

Among the most popular subject lines for my e-zine, Wylie’s Writing Tips:

  • “Pleading for shorter sentences”
  • “Don’t commit verbicide”
  • “Can you read me now?”

Why did these lines get higher click-through rates than usual?

Because they focus on what the reader will learn and they sound intriguing.

3. Make it easy.

EmailLabs studied 23,475 email campaigns of more than 650 companies. They found that:

  • Recipients opened email messages with subject lines of less than 50 characters 12.5 percent more often than those with 50-plus characters.
  • The click-through rates for the shorter subject lines were 75 percent higher than for the longer ones.
  • Some email platforms truncate subject lines after 5 words or so. So limiting your subject line to 50 characters or less will also ensure that it displays fully in inboxes and on mobile devices. Plus, shorter subject lines are easier to understand at a glance.

Copyright © 2014  Ann Wylie.  All rights reserved.

AnnWylie_headshotAnn Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at
Email: ann at

When it comes to social media, an ounce of prevention goes a long way

Photo Credit: Ikon Images

Thanks to social media, following companies is as easy as watching television.  However, the social media world can turn into a cruel one with one wrong move, damaging the reputation you took years to build.

Sarah Skerik of PR Newswire recently gave some good advice on ways to avoid a social media disaster.  We’ve tweaked her ideas to focus on avoiding a professional PR crisis:

  1. Keep it clean – While it’s become socially acceptable for TV networks to use language formerly considered vulgar, this is one trend that your business should avoid.
  2. Make sure you want to see it again; it will come back to you – Yes, you’re able to delete any tweet or status update you please.  However, there are two reasons doing so is a bad idea:  a) someone can still grab a screenshot of your message; and b) backtracking on social media leaves a bad impression on your business.
  3. Consider your stakeholders – If you have any doubts that your message may offend the people you care about – or those you want to respect you – then refrain from posting it.  Cool off before you write anything.  As your mother probably told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”
  4. Stay classy – Since no one is perfect, you’re likely to have a dissatisfied customer whose mission in life is to damage your company’s reputation.  In situations like these, it’s best to admit wrongdoing on your company’s part and offer a solution to the customer – putting out the fire in the process.
  5. Do some scenario planning – This simply involves thinking before you speak.  Don’t just think about the positive outcomes of your message, but also think about the negative responses your message could receive.
  6. Divide and conquer (or don’t mix your accounts) – Every company has a few social media savvy employees to manage the social media accounts.  Social media managers must keep their personal profiles distant from the company’s profiles to avoid posting to the wrong account..  And always remember to manage your privacy settings carefully.

The ease of sharing information is what makes social media both a blessing and a curse.  With social media, what it all boils down to is being cautious of the message you send.

A Lesson in Humility from “The King”

By now you’ve heard the story of LeBron James.  You know, the one who was labeled as “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated when he was only 17?  The one who was drafted 1st overall in 2003 by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers?  And yes, that same one who infamously announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach” in an hour-long ESPN special, “The Decision”.  By the way, he’s the same one who finally won his first NBA Championship with the Miami Heat last month.

Oh, you’re not really a sports fan?  You mean you’ve never heard of LeBron James?

Well, you have now!

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To answer your question, no, this hasn’t become a sports blog.   However, perhaps you could see how LeBron James has done, what some might say, irreparable harm to his reputation.   In the business world, this would be similar to a long-time business partner announcing to the world via press conference that they’re leaving you to join a Fortune 100 company – as opposed to staying in business with you.

In the PR world, situations, people, and brands like these call for crisis communications management.  At the simplest level, crisis communications just involves telling your stakeholders, “I’m sorry.”  But when you have a situation like LeBron James on your hands, well – that’s when you have to pull out all of the stops in order to “win your baby back!”

Believe it or not, there is a lesson to be learn from LeBron James.  Last season he gave us a lesson in crisis communication management that you could apply to your situation.

1) Be genuinely remorseful – Admitting that you have a problem is always the first step to solving it.  At the start of the 2011-2012 season, LeBron James sat down for an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.  In the interview, LeBron expressed his feelings of regret for “The Decision.”

2) Be humble – When you’ve suffered a serious setback to your brand, the last thing you can afford to do is continue to toot your own horn; after all, the effects of being humble stem from being humiliated.  LeBron learned that after the Heat loss the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.

3) Be supportive – That is, support a noble cause.  If you’re in damage control due to an external issue, it makes perfect sense to support an organization or initiative that relates to what got you in trouble to begin with.  For example, if you’ve been insensitive to a certain demographic, find a way to be a part of a progressive movement that serves those you’ve offended.  While LeBron didn’t offend one particular group of people (although Cleveland sports fans may disagree), he took a step in the right direction by supporting State Farm’s “26 Seconds” campaign to lower high school dropout rates.
4) Be yourself – At some point you have to stop apologizing to everyone.  Unfortunately, there will still be critics to anything positive you try to do.  Getting your brand back requires getting back to the things that earned your stakeholders to begin with.  Hey, there are actually people out there who forgive.  So go out there and make them smile!
5) Be great – Some say that winning cures many ills.  If that’s the case, then it’s time for your company to get back to being the best.  You may be surprised at how low your critics’ noise-level is compared to the praises.

Overall, the key to crisis communications is being genuine.   Your stakeholders have to believe in what you’re doing to make amends with them.  However, after so many apologies, they want to see things get back to normal.  At the end of the day, don’t just talk about it.  Be about it!

Good PR Starts with Good CR

So, let’s say you’re a business owner – a relatively new one at that.  You’ve come up with this great product or service that you can’t wait to spread the word about.  You may have even hired a PR firm to help you out.  And yet, your business is still anything but booming.

While you’re thinking of new ideas, you think of the phrase about networking: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”  So now you’re browsing the Internet looking for local events to network with like-minded people.  But after hours and hours of looking you realize that attending all, if any, of these events could play a huge factor in your expense report; and right now you’re likely not in a position to spend big on anything non-business related.

So, now what?

If marketing and public relations is best achieved from a relationship approach, then your potential clients need to know who you really are.  What better way to connect with them than doing some community relations? That is, community relations (CR) is just the way your business interacts with the environment you work in.

Believe it or not, community relations is one of the easiest ways for you to promote yourself.  It lets your potential customers know that you care about the things they do as opposed to just selling to them.  By dedicating your time to the community, you start to build trust with others and make a name for yourself as being people-oriented.

Please note, however, that it’s just not enough to attend volunteer events just to show your face – you have to be down with the cause!  That means you have to be genuinely interested in the community work you choose to do.  For instance, if you participate in a community clean-up event, but are afraid to get down-and-dirty with the other volunteers, they will notice your actions and may feel uncomfortable working with you.  In other words, they’ll question your character and you won’t have the trust from them that it takes to build your business; and you know what they say about trust!

If you’re looking for low-cost ways to get involved in your community, here are just a few ideas:

  • Coach a youth sport – If you work well with kids, you’ll leave a lasting impression with parents.
  • Community cleanup days – Interact with the area’s most passionate citizens and get a sense for what the community wants.
  • Join a committee – Get to know the most influential people and offer your ideas to an organization in need.
  • Mentor those who aspire to do what you do – Remember, even you had to start somewhere.
  • Offer a free sample, demo, or presentation of what you do – Some people have to see it to believe it – nothing wrong with a little show-and-tell!

At the end of the day everything is brought in full-circle.  Just as you had to put in some elbow grease to get your business started, you have to do the same to promote yourself.  People don’t buy what you do, but rather why you do it.  And what better way to show them why you’re in business than by getting involved with your community?

Just make sure you have fun doing it along the way!

How Clients Can Get the Most Out of Their PR Agency

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Building a relationship with your agency is just as important as building your brand. Just like any relationship, it’s a two way street and both sides have to put effort into it to enforce a strong bond.

The growing success of your brand goes hand in hand with the strength of your relationship with your agency. In a good client – agency relationship, information gets passed along much easier and it keeps everyone on the same page. With constant communication from the client, an agency can better prepare for their needs.

Learn how to build a strong relationship and get the maximum potential out of your agency by following this guideline:

  • Trust your agency – build a strong relationship with them.  Trust and chemistry is 90 percent of the contract.
  • Let the agency be the professionals and come to you with proactive ideas, but collaboration is always welcome.  Allow creativity to flourish.
  • Be open to social media and be willing to try new techniques and tools to build your brand.
  • Be accessible, if you are the spokesperson; an alternative spokesperson is always a good idea.
  • Make sure you have a great product/service or story to tell – research/survey results, new hires, events/tradeshows, milestone, expansion, merger, etc.  You may think you have a story, but the media may not agree.  Let your agency help you determine how you can differentiate yourself from the competition.
  • Understand that following the AP Stylebook when writing releases and media materials  is important, and that a good agency will be fussy about writing.
  •  Try to return phone calls and emails on time and don’t make the agency wait for approvals and critical decisions.
  • Pay your bill on time. Your mother carried you for nine months, but an agency can’t.
  • Help your agency succeed.  Introduce them to other businesses that might become clients.  Your agency will appreciate your support and work harder for you
  • Say thank you. Compliment your agency on a good job, but know constructive criticism is welcome. If you’re unhappy with something, let them know and give them the chance to change or fix it.

And remember, a sense of humor is always welcome!

The Values of Interns and Interning

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If you need some extra help at your company but may not have room in the budget to hire someone, why not get an intern? College students and recent graduates need the experience and are more than happy to earn college credit or some extra cash on the side.

In many college programs, students are required to take an internship in order to graduate. Other students or college graduates are looking to gain more experience in their fields. This is a great opportunity for companies to take advantage of.

Internships are a valuable part of the learning experience in addition to what students and graduates learned through college. Although some college courses are designed to teach students how to do things hands on, not everything can be taught in a classroom.

It is important when taking on an intern to delegate meaningful tasks that will help them gain experience rather than just giving them “busy work”. Also avoid using your intern for purely job shadowing because experience is best learned through practice.

Not only will students and recent graduates gain useful experience, but they will also get a sense for what your specific industry is like. Interning with a company provides a sense of the work load, environment, and the expectations of the employees. They will also learn valuable skills such as time management and how to be professional in the workplace.

The benefit of a company taking on an intern is multi-fold. The main advantage for a company is that they can save money since they since companies don’t have the overhead of paying for benefits for a full time hire. Interns can help lighten the work load, they are knowledgeable about modern methods, and they can bring new and fresh ideas to the table.

Inviting someone to take an internship also allows the company to observe their work ethic, growth potential, and dependability. This will help determine whether or not they are a team player and if they are a good fit for the company.

In many cases, companies find their interns to be valuable enough to hire on as an employee once the internship is over. Interns should take their internships seriously, because you never know if it will turn into a career!

Winning for Detroit: I’m a Believer Campaign wins Best of Show Mercury Award

Winning is important only when it involves and inspires people who are better because of it.

So goes the I’m a Believer Campaign which won Best of Show last week in New York, competing in the Mercury Awards with 1,000 entries from 21 countries. Mercury Awards

The Campaign, which is my baby and also that of Paige Curtis from the Curtis Group, is a regional marketing initiative focused on changing the hearts and minds of area residents, encouraging volunteerism to revitalize the City of Detroit. The purpose of the campaign is to unite and recruit an army of “Believers.” We developed a compelling marketing campaign, pointing to a website created to motivate and encourage residents to become “Believers” and volunteer.

Hundreds of thousands have helped by volunteering to do whatever they can – to help make Detroit a great city again. The campaign continues to change the city through the work of volunteerism that the message inspired.

The Cities of Service website has been hosting thousands of non-profits and area citizens, bringing them together to do what is necessary: help tutor a child, plant a garden, clean up a neighborhood – whatever it takes to make Detroit a great city again.

The contract with Cities of Service ends in April. Since that is the content management system of the Believer Campaign, we are exploring ways to develop a new website.

Things seem to be on hold with Detroit, so I’d like to hear from area residents on where the campaign should be directed. Do you know of a website that would be willing to partner with us? Do you know someone who could build a new site for us? Like the city, our funds are low, also.

Believer won a big prize in New York City, but my concern is keeping the prize here at home for our residents in the city. Then we can make sure that there’s a win-win for everybody.

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Helpful Tips on Professionalism

One thing that college courses can’t teach you is how to be professional in the workplace. Professionalism is a crucial attribute to have in any career field. Below are some helpful tips on professionalism.

  • Communication skills are crucial. Know your audience and remember to think before you speak.  When communicating with others, focus on using constructive comments rather than destructive comments.
  • Writing is a necessity in most jobs. Learn how to write professionally. It will be a good reflection on you and your company.
  • Networking is important, you never know when you’re going to need a connection.
  • Be assertive, this shows that you’re confident.
  •  Exercise your leadership skills; delegate work when needed.
  • Time management is key to being on time to work, meetings, and all other work-related affairs.
  • Use stress management techniques when becoming too stressed out. If you do not de-stress yourself, you are likely to be less productive.
  • Ask about things you do not understand; don’t wait for someone to ask for you. Asking questions shows that you are interested in learning more about the subject. Properly ask questions without offending someone. Learn to ask questions in a sensitive way.
  • Be organized and focused; this will help you be more productive.
  • Set goals and stick to them. Don’t procrastinate! Goals help you track your progression and they can be personal or professional.
  • Work on important projects with minimal interruption and one at a time. This will make you more productive.
  • Make ‘to do’ lists for the next day before you leave each night.  This is a good organization tool that will help you stay focused on your current obligations.
  • Do not shy away from change. It is inevitable, so embrace it.
  • Keep an open mind to the opinions of others. This is particularly important in brainstorm sessions when looking for new ideas.
  • Be happy with small wins – let things like small arguments go. Learn how to lose arguments.
  • Be nice to people. People will notice if you are being a jerk!


If you stick to these tips, you are likely to stand out at work for being professional!