Call it the physics of public relations. To cause a reaction from media (to get a reporter to open your e-mail message or read your press release), there must be an equal or greater action on your end (e.g., a really catchy subject line or an “Aha!” headline).
Reporters, editors, and producers are flooded with e-mail and press releases every day. To make yours stand out and trigger the reaction you’re after, follow these three basic but crucial steps.
1. Keep It Relevant
Always make sure the story you are pitching and the way you are pitching it makes sense for the target. That will take a little effort, such as reading at least a few of the reporter’s articles or blogs or viewing a few broadcasts. But it’s well worth the investment of time to be sure you tailor your subject lines appropriately.
For example, you may be the owner of a travel agency and your story is about off-season bargain vacation spots. Target reporters who cover wide-ranging travel (as opposed to a columnist who writes about day tripping in your own backyard).
If the reporter typically uses a certain format (e.g., a “how-to” or a first-person journal entry), try to design your e-mail subject line to mirror that format. For example, a travel blogger who sticks to a question-and-answer format might be more receptive to a subject line that reads “Off-Season Travel Bargain Q’s and Surprising A’s.”
Another example is a producer who requires video to do a story. To stay relevant, you might need to send a subject line like this (and be sure you have the goods to back up your promise): “Beautiful B-roll of Off-Season Travel Bargain Spots” (a B-roll is supplemental film footage).
When you’re writing a headline for your press release, focus on the action in your story. Use descriptive verbs to create momentum. If you don’t already own a thesaurus, now is the time to buy one. You want a tone that says the story is going to move the audience, either by revealing something they didn’t already know or by reinforcing existing knowledge in a new way. For example, let’s say your story is about more women booking off-season cruises to Alaska and more men booking off-season cruises to the Caribbean. A straightforward (but boring) headline might simply read “Off-Season Travel Bargains: More Men Go to Caribbean, More Women to Alaska.”
Instead, you might ramp up the action with more interesting language: “Hunting for Off-Season Travel Bargains, Men Target Caribbean, Women Stalk Alaska.”
Include the Element of Surprise
All news is meant to inform, but much of it is also meant to entertain. Your headline and subject line should help convince the journalists that there is an entertaining element to your informative story. It’s all in the telling. Look for the twist, the kernel of surprise in the story. Remember that most people are interested in how a news development will impact their lives. Part of a journalist’s job is to explain how the news affects the Average Joe or Josephine. Since we can all identify as either, one way to find the twist is to highlight any gender differences in a story. It’s a time-tested way to make the news more relevant and more entertaining to the audience and therefore more likely to interest the reporter. For example, which e-mail would you be more likely to open? “Off-Season Travel Bargains in Caribbean and Alaska” or “New Front in Battle of the Sexes: Off-Season Travel Bargains”?
In life, so many opportunities start with just getting your foot in the door. The equivalent in PR is getting a journalist to open an e-mail (rather than deleting it because the subject line is boring) or read beyond a headline (rather than tossing the press release in the circular file because the headline’s a yawn). Keep your subject lines relevant and catchy and your headlines punchy and energetic, and you’ll stand the best chance ever of getting a toe in the newsroom door.
In her 16 years as a PR professional, Barbara Goldberg has helped clients in health care, alternative energy, and the performing arts tell their stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS News, ABCNews.com, and many other media outlets.