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The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Journalist to Open Your Email
August 16th, 2021
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Sending your pitch is one thing, but getting a journalist actually to open it is a whole different story. Even if you spend hours crafting the perfect angle, it can often get lost in the abyss, especially when journalists are receiving hundreds of PR pitches a day. Luckily, there are some PR strategies you can use to ensure that journalists not only see but open and respond to your email in a timely manner.

Think about what makes your pitch special. Is it tied to a current trend? Does it involve a beloved celebrity? Is it a response to breaking news? It’s vital that you format your information in a practical, eye-catching way, starting with your email’s subject line. From there, find an email length and structure that best fits your content and client.

Below, industry professionals share their top PR strategies for how to get a journalist to open your email.

Write an eye-catching subject line

Subject lines are like first impressions: You want them to grab their attention and be worth remembering. While some publicists will go for punny or cutesy subject lines, it’s best to lead with information. “My most successful pitches start with a subject line that is as hard-hitting as any headline,” Amy Stern, senior vice president at 3E Public Relations, explains. One of her recent successes stems from a clear subject line: “Eighty-year-old Boasts Perfect Attendance in Pandemic.” This gave the journalist just enough information but required them to open the email to understand why and how an 80-year-old could get perfect attendance. Names should be used if (and only if) you’re working with a celebrity or notable public figure. “Name-dropping is only an effective attention-grabber if the recipient knows who the person is,” Lisa Hagendorf, president and founder of Centerpiece Public Relations, adds.

When considering what information to include in your subject line, continue to be wary of length. “Shorter is often better because it helps ensure that your subject is visible on a small screen like a phone,” Hagendorf continues. Although there isn’t a specific word count for subject lines, she recommends using no more than 10 words, roughly 100 characters.

Pay attention to the journalist’s time zone

Scheduling functions on Microsoft Outlook or Gmail are a publicist’s best friend. A surefire way to get a journalist to open your email is to send it at a time when they are actually checking their email. It’s simple: “You want your pitch to arrive when the journalist is most likely to be a captive audience ´a la awake and working,” Hagendorf explains. “Journalists receive hundreds of emails every day, so, logically, being at the top of their inbox is better than being buried 157 emails deep because you sent it at 9 p.m.”

Even if you’re working after hours, don’t assume that they’re doing the same; instead, schedule an email for the first thing in the morning. With that being said, it’s also important to remember that journalists work all over the world, so check to see what their local time zone is before sending anything. If you’re unsure what their time zone is, check their LinkedIn profile or social media channels for clues.

Do your research on the journalist ahead of time

It’s evident to journalists when you send mass emails or copy and paste text from one email to the next. Take a few extra minutes to personalize the pitches you send. Consider the following: Did they recently get promoted to a new position? Are they covering a new beat? Did they bring up any significant life changes when you last spoke, like a wedding or big move? If you don’t have a personal relationship with the journalist, turn to Google to find the answers to your questions.

According to Sarah Gallagher, media director at Crowe PR, you can get all the information you need from a quick browse through their author page, social media channels, and personal websites. “Familiarize yourself with the topics they’ve recently covered, as well as anything they may have shared on social media,” she explains. “By checking out their recent coverage, you’re also able to tailor the way you draft your pitch–perhaps you reference a relevant article they’ve recently published or change your subject line to align with the format of the titles of their stories.”

Keep emails short and to the point

Think about it: When you see an email with tons of text hit your inbox, how do you feel? Journalists feel the exact same way. “When drafting an email to a journalist, be brief and only include the key point,” Gallagher continues. Be sure to mention “one to two things the journalist must know in order to be interested.” You can always rely on formatting tricks to break up information, especially if you’re working with more dense material. “Use bullet points to help break up the information and bold any key facts or stats. This helps draw the journalist’s eyes to the important information versus being distracted by paragraphs of filler information.”

When considering how to get a journalist to open your email, Gallagher says you should keep the following rule of thumb in mind: Journalists should be able to breeze through an email in less than a minute and have a solid understanding of what you’re pitching. If they’re interested, they’ll reach out to you for more information.

Tailor your pitch to their industry

As a publicist, you’re often pitching to media of all types: online publications, traditional print, TV, you name it. Take a little extra time to craft your pitch to fit a specific media type, speaking in the language of the person who’s opening your email. “I continually put myself in the shoes of the producer or the reporter and think about the teaser, the headline and then deliver a suggested pitch that speaks to them,” Stern says.

Find a unique way to get in on current trends

At the start of the pandemic, journalists received hundreds of pitches about work-from-home wear and self-care must-haves. While it’s true that several journalists were covering stories about athleisure and at-home beauty where these pitches were relevant, it was very easy for an email to get lost. In this case, think about something that sets your brand apart while still making them relevant enough to meet the moment. Perhaps, you could take this time to mention that your client has a sustainable lens or give-back model.

At the height of the pandemic, Stern was looking for clever ways to get her client (an independent hospital) some good press. First, her team came up with different story angles to support their hospital’s mission during this time, “Delivering Compassionate Care During Crisis.” Some of their pitches included topics like “Conveying Public Trust,” “Delivering Optimism,” among others.

And while it’s helpful to jump on the trends, it’s just as crucial to know when to take a step back. During particularly difficult times, whether it’s because of a global health crisis, political upheaval, social unrest, or something else, take a step back and analyze if your pitch is helping—or distracting—from the current moment.