Should ‘press release’ be part of your pitch’s subject line?

By Gijs Nelissen  This post can be originally be found here



Is it more effective to let email recipients know they are receiving a press release?

Public relations professionals frequently ask that. As a provider of tools for PR teams, we were keen to find an answer.

Stop, look, and listen

In talking with a lot of PR professionals, attending conferences, and having conversations with journalists, we noticed everyone is doing email pitches in a different way. Some are using text-style emails with compelling headlines; others are sending stunning visual email templates to support their stories.

Trying to find answers to some recurring questions, “Do you attach the entire story to your email?” and “Do you include all the visuals in your email?” we found out that most decisions were made using “soft” arguments such as emotion, previous experiences, or gut feeling. Yes, gut feeling.

We sought to use both qualitative and quantitative research to answer that question. This is what we learned from crunching 1 million press release email pitches and interviewing journalists:

Labeled vs. unlabeled

There are a lot of different ways to add the press release label to your email; here are some examples:

• Press release: title of the story
• PR: title of the story
• Title of the story [Press release]

For sake of simplicity, we categorized as “labeled” any email pitch that has the words “press release” in the subject.

What do the numbers say?

The entire PR sector is screaming for measurement and KPIs. Our team has been trying to make decisions based on hard numbers and facts.

Being geeks, we were convinced that by crunching the data (click and open rates) of more than 1 million email pitches we would be able to find answers to those questions. So, what do did our numbers tell us?

The average open rate of “labeled” press release emails is substantially higher (2 percent) than their “unlabeled” peers. Looking at the click rate, we don’t see a substantial difference.

Let’s try to find an explanation

Emails sent to a known journalist or media outlet will first be validated/categorized. With very little time on their hands, journalists must scan lots of emails and make a decision on the newsworthiness of a given piece. In addition, people are consuming more and more emails on smartphones and tablets.

Knowing that journalists’ primary source of news is still their inbox, we believe adding “press release” to your email triggers them to download the embedded multimedia and tracking beacon, resulting in increased open rates.

OK, got it. I will start all my email pitches with “press release.”

Not so fast. Although labeling your releases might boost your open rate, it does not generate clicks—and clicks are far more accurate in measuring interest. That means that every story, labeled or unlabeled, gets treated equally. No clear winner here.

What do journalists and bloggers say?

In addition to searching for the mathematical answer to our question, we asked the recipients of those emails. So, we sent the question to 100 journalists, bloggers, and influencers.

We received 42 replies. Of those, about 60 percent said it didn’t matter whether an email is labeled with “press release.”

One of the recurring themes was that brands and PR professionals should realize the email subject line is where you pull in journalists seeking good stories. Your subject line should be around 50 characters or fewer; the words “press release” take up about 25 percent of that.

There is more. After our initial email, a conversation started. We asked about the inner workings of the media, the methods used to select newsworthy content, and what their mailboxes looked like. A few interesting responses:

It might help when it’s from someone who knows what a press release is. Not when it’s just marketing tagged as a press release.

Mary Branscombe, freelance writer (Financial Times, The Guardian, ZDnet,…)

We do not really care if an email is labeled as a press release. Our news office is trained to process huge amounts of information in a very short time. Doing that, we see beyond the words “Exclusive,” “Breaking,” or “For immediate release.” “Press release” is another of those words.

And when people DO decide they want to use the word “press release,” make sure the content of the pitch actually contains news. If you do not have an interesting story, don’t email it.

Tom De Cock, radio host, MNM/VRT

I would say that every unnecessary word in an email headline is less space for the sell. So, basically, I’d say I wouldn’t put “press release.”

Patrick Goss, editor in chief, TechRadar


Should you add “press release” to your email pitch to increase the impact? No, there is no reason to do so.

Although the data (open rate and click rate) did not provide us enough valuable insight to strengthen that argument, our survey and conversations with journalists and influencers showed no one really puts much value in the word “press release” anymore. Your email subject should be as engaging as it is accurate.

Gijs Nelissen is co-founder at Prezly, a press release publication and distribution service. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn. A version of this story originally appeared on thecompany’s blog.


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