Category: PR Business

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

Newspaper Op-Eds: A Frequently Overlooked PR Tool

Newspaper Op-Eds are very important pieces to the puzzle of comprehensive coverage for a client. We use them for our clients. Here is an article from Public Relations Tactics by Scott Berman.

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Newspaper op-eds — signed opinion pieces on the page opposite editorials — are important PR tools too frequently overlooked by communications professionals. And for many of those who use this tactic, efforts often stall because of common pitfalls in the three-step op-ed process: envisioning, preparing, and marketing. Nevertheless, there are internal and external benefits to op-eds that make the effort pay off.

Putting together an op-ed can serve as a catalyst for organizations to develop language on important issues. Thus, an op-ed is a manifesto for external and internal public relations: helping organizations stake claims on a range of important issues.

Possible hooks are not hard to find. Try your own files. There are news releases and speeches whose still-relevant content likely reached a limited audience. Your organization is probably fighting some of the same battles described in those documents. Use them. I once developed a piece that was derived from a months-old news release about a dangerous, overlooked loophole in federal law that created hazards on city streets. The issue — to make laws that would save lives on roadways — remained pertinent and was again of keen interest when a particular kind of traffic accident occurred: demonstrating why the issue mattered. In turn, op-ed language can be used for interviews, speeches, and other internal and external communications.

Further, decision- and lawmakers are keenly aware of the opinion pages of national and regional newspapers. They read, think about, and are often sensitive to op-eds. Many officials regard such print forums as particularly prestigious and influential, whether or not they like the opinions that appear there. Although a quick, routine news package is likely to reach more people, it tends to be fleeting, unless there is a crisis. Op-eds have staying power. They may show up in the paper, in that official’s news summary at the office, in their staff’s files, or in later letters to the editor. They can be conveniently reviewed, held in the decision maker’s hand, copied at a moment’s notice, and cheaply circulated.

Build the op-ed around a timely or regional hook. Watch news coverage for possible opportunities. For example, I once found a newspaper list of needed infrastructure projects in all 50 states. This was of great interest because the issue directly affected my client. I then checked and used the data to market localized versions of an op-ed on the subject nationwide. More than a dozen appeared.

Newspaper editors rely on the anniversaries of news events for updated coverage. For instance, I once tied op-eds about the need to restore a monument to reported comments by a state official, the anniversary of D-Day, and July 4. Another time I tied versions of a piece to the anniversary of the introduction of a historic bill in Congress. A year and a half later, I revisited the issue in a version linked to the anniversary of when the law went into effect.

Too many agencies and organizations blanket mail op-eds without any reference point or clear local angle. Others lack a valid hook, besides an organization’s desire to get ink on a particular issue. Make connections between your issue and hooks that are logical, newsworthy, and of strategic value to your client. In addition, be prepared to describe the piece to editors accordingly. Help editors identify relevant issues of interest to their readers, even if the topic or hook is unconventional or unexpected.

Also, think of op-eds in terms of internal relations. I once asked a technical expert to edit a draft of an op-ed for accuracy. “I’ve been here for 30 years, and no one has ever asked me to review anything like this,” the expert said appreciatively, even though speeches and releases were prepared through the years that touched on aspects of his area of expertise. Let experts know you need them — they will appreciate it and their future help will come in handy.

Op-eds can be credible components of media kits. With a newspaper’s copyright approval, such pieces can be copied and serve as meaty, thought-provoking items for others as they form perceptions about your organization.

The majority of op-eds are targeted to one or two newspapers and, when not printed there, are presumed dead. Prepare a prioritized list of publications to approach in turn. Work your way through it as you receive answers. Remember, placing an op-ed is like getting a date — you only succeed if you ask.

Find out who handles op-eds at the target newspaper. Regarding op-ed pitch letters and communication, be ready to offer one exclusively in terms of time, content, or circulation area — whatever the editor requires. Make appropriate follow-up calls, and take no for an answer with courtesy — you may have other op-eds to offer in the future.

Source: Public Relations Society of America

TalkBusiness Article : Can you keep clients happy in PR?

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Is It Possible To Keep Clients Happy In PR? Managing The You Booked It, You Fix It Mindset

Working in the field of public relations can be described as putting on an army helmet each day and tiptoeing carefully across a minefield. Sometimes as publicists we are able to do so quite successfully, and it’s all sunshine and lollipops as we land that perfect media placement for our clients. Then there are those dreaded days when you unsuspectingly step on one of those mines, and a media contact runs a horrific story for your client that you had absolutely no way of anticipating. You pop it open because the placement is finally here. Then, as you read, your heart rate increases and all you can repeatedly say is, “Oh nooo!”

A negative spin article on a positive story pitch will then fill the next two days for you with damage control on phones with editors demanding a redaction, and coddling calls and emails with your client. You find yourself repeating phrases like “This is not at all what we pitched”, “They twisted this story”, and “I’m as mortified as you are; let us see what we can do”.

Because a publicist or PR Firm is essentially the paid middleman on the front lines of communication, the client’s automatic reaction to a bad media placement or review is “You booked this, you fix it.” However, any seasoned publicist will tell you that mindset is 100 percent incorrect. So how do you keep your clients happy at all times, even during rough patches like these? Is it even possible?

How Things Really Work

Though a PR firm is paid to pitch stories to the media and scout the right placement contacts for clients, contrary to popular belief, we don’t toss up our PR fairy dust to make that positive story appear. While we are our client’s biggest cheerleader, we don’t have the final say in what, when, or how a story runs. This can be quite frustrating when a story has delays, gets canned, or when a negative spin angle is suddenly placed on our hard work. If a publicist has done their job effectively, they have (1) thoroughly researched the media contact beforehand to make sure they do not harbor any intense hatred for the subject at hand, (2) pitched a seamless story with a very nice angle for the client, (3) booked the interview, and (4) followed up to ensure that the placement does hit. After all of that, we all know that there is a black hole that is entirely out of our hands between the client interview and the time the writer chops up their story with their editor. It is an exciting time for the client, but it can be a terrifying waiting game for us.

Setting Client Expectations

The “You booked it, you fix it” mindset can truly be detrimental to a publicist/client relationship. However, it can be nipped in the bud early if you teach your clients the full process. Don’t allow them to think that you have full control over any story, because that is simply incorrect. When you educate your client on the PR process and the many hands a story has to touch before it is published, the ride will be a much smoother one.

Train Your Clients

Media training for your client is of the utmost importance. This means taking the time to sit with them in person or on the phone to hone their pitch. I often advise my clients that the most important thing is to always steer drifting questions back to their business, product, or positive points during an interview. If a writer goes off topic, stay clear and turn back. Clients can sometimes be a handful and can easily talk themselves into a negative spin article if you don’t train them not to. The media contact will perk up like, “Wait, what was that he said?” then will proceed to do some side digging or generate an opinion outside of the positive angle you pitched. Those moments are to be avoided at all costs. As a publicist, I am powerless to fix anything if a client has run off at the mouth and buried themselves during an interview. Let your clients know that once you have let them loose in an interview, you are truly passing the baton and expecting them to positively finish the race. Then close your eyes, set your client-child loose, and hope that they have remembered all you taught them.

Handling Media with a Long- Handled Spoon

Working with media is exactly like handling a hot pan. Put on those oven mitts so that you don’t get burned, and handle them carefully! Be sure to set yourself and your client up for success by doing your research prior to scheduling the interview to see if the media contact has any previous history of negativity on the subject matter. Also try to get the questions for the interview in advance from the media contact in order to effectively prep your client and ensure a successful interview.

Maintain Minimal Interaction

Your client emailed or called the media contact after the interview to “follow up?” What are they thinking! Stop that before it starts. Have minimal contact after the interview. Do not allow your client to call or email the media contact, and you, as a publicist, should only communicate when necessary as to not piss them off. These people have other deadlines and other stories and honestly do not have to run yours. Send a thank-you and any photos or additional information that they need promptly after the interview. If the piece takes too long to run, then sending one email asking for a timeline confirmation is fine. When media contacts are angered, you have officially jumped directly on to the land mine, and it is important to get that point across to your clients early on.

Be Honest with Your Clients: “Hey, Your Business Kind of Sucks!”

Do not make your job any harder than it has to be. That’s what you are doing if you notice there are problems with a product that you are pitching to be reviewed, or if a business has a few holes that you recognize and don’t speak up. Your client’s reputation is your responsibility; so let them know to fix these things or agree on a plan of action to eliminate those items before pitching, even if it means delaying the PR campaign. Also remember that your reputation is also on the line with the media if you pitch unworthy products, businesses or services.

Consistent Work and Communication

There is no better way to change the “You booked it, you fix it mindset” than to have consistent ongoing communication with your clients. This includes what you are pitching, whom you are pitching to, and inviting your client’s feedback. Total visibility into the processes does not enable your client to run off and do your job on their own, which is what many publicists believe. Rather, it develops a pattern of trust and allows them to see the work that goes in to each and every placement. If you are consistently working at a high level and landing other positive media placements, it will eliminate any undo pressure or expectations when a negative placement arises.

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