Do you need to add "press release" in your email pitch?

Is it more effective to let the reader know they are receiving a press release? An interesting question that has been brought up numerous times by public relation professionals. As a provider of tools for PR teams we were keen to find an answer to this question.

Stop, look and listen

By 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 while others are sending stunning visual email templates to support their story.

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

We set out a challenge to use both qualitative and quantitative research to come up with an answer to that question. In this post we’ll show what we learned from both crunching 1 million press release email pitches and interviewing journalists. This is what we learned from analysing our own data:

Labeled vs unlabeled

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

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

For sake of simplicity we categorised email pitches that have the words “press release” in the subject “labeled”.

What do the numbers say?

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

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

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

Open tracking explained

The method to measure open tracking is similar for all online email providers. We embed a tiny, invisible picture in the bottom of your email. This image is unique to every email you send. Each time someone opens your email and views the images in it, we know which email was opened.

Disclaimer: Open rates are tricky to get right. We have analysed the behaviour of over 1 million emails from over 1000 email campaigns. Although we feel that is a decent number to draw some conclusions it’s important to highlight the data might be more accurate with a larger data set. Help getting even better numbers by signing up for Prezly.

Lets try and find an explanation

Emails sent to a known journalist or media will first be validated/categorised. With very little time on their hands, journalists need to scan a numerous emails and make a decision on the newsworthiness of that piece. Add to that that people are consuming more and more of your emails on smartphones and tablets.

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

OK, got it. From today I will start all of my email pitches with "Press Release:". Hold on. Not so fast. While labeling your PRs might have an impact on your open rate, it does not generate clicks. And clicks are far more accurate to measure interest. That means that every story, labeled and 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 figured it was a good idea to ask the recipients of those emails. So we sent the question to list of 100 journalists, bloggers and influencers.

We received 42 replies. Here is what they said:

Less surprising. Most recipients confirmed there is no change in behaviour for “labeled” or “unlabeled” press releases. One of the recurring themes was that brands and PR professionals should realise the email subject is where you pull in journalists seeking good stories. Knowing that your subject line should be around 50 characters or less or less the word “press release” takes up quite some room in that valuable spot.

You only have one chance to make a first impression.

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

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 Journalist (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, Radiohost, 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" in my subject line.Patrick Goss, Editor in Chief, TechRadar


Do you need to 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
Gijs Nelissen

Gijs is a web architect and entrepreneur on a mission to help PR pros. He used to run a medium sized web agency, after that ran the sales team for one of the largest web agencies in the Benelux. Since 2010 he's the technical co-founder of Prezly, the online service that helps brands reach out to their media contacts.