How to send out a press release? We analyzed 1 million subject lines

How to send out a press release? We analyzed 1 million subject lines

Yes, that is too many pitches. Here's what we found 🕵️‍♀️

"Should I write 'PRESS RELEASE' in the email subject line when sending it out??"

This is an interesting question that has been brought up numerous times by public relations professionals. As a provider of tools for PR teams, we were keen to find out the answer, so we decided to investigate. We wanted to identify how to write an email introducing a press release example in a way that grabs readers effectively.

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The Research: 1 MILLION email pitches

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. (And it turns out that yes, adding visuals to your press release does make a difference to whether it gets read.)

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.

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While it's notoriously difficult to decide how to measure PR engagement, we thought we'd take it a step further to see what really goes on. 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 subject lines and interviewing journalists. How do you create the perfect press release subject line? This is what we learned from analyzing our own data:

Labeled vs unlabelled

There are a lot of different ways to add the press release label to your email subject line. Some email pitch subject line examples include:

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

For the purpose of our study, we count a press release subject line as "labeled" if it includes the term "Press Release".

What do the numbers say?

We crunched the data (click and open rates) of over 1 million email pitches and got these results:

Open and click rate of labeled vs. unlabelled press releases ​
Open and click rate of labeled vs. unlabelled press releases ​

Surprising results.

The average open rate of "labeled" press release emails is 2% higher than their “unlabelled” counterparts, while looking at the click rate, we don’t see a substantial difference.

How we tracked open rates

The method to measure open tracking is similar for all online email providers. To run this experiment we used Prezly, our own software that combines a multimedia pitch editor with straightforward contact management, newsroom publication, and story distribution.

How the magic works...

We embed a tiny, invisible picture at 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 analyzed the behavior of over 1 million emails from over 1,000 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.

Reading into the numbers

Emails sent to a known journalist or media will first be given a quick glance to see if it is worth their time. With very little time on their hands, journalists need to scan numerous emails and make a decision on the newsworthiness of what they get in their inbox. Add to that that these people are on the go, and likely viewing your email on a mobile device.

Having a clear subject line that states exactly what the email contains immediately tells the journalist what they can expect. Knowing that journalists’ primary source of news is still their mailbox, we believe adding “press release” to your press release email subject line makes them more likely to view the email resulting in an increase in open rates.

OK, got it. From today I should start all my email pitches with "Press Release:"

Hold on. Not so fast.

While labeling your press releases might have an impact on your open rate, remember that it does not generate a significant difference in clicks.

And clicks are far more accurate to measure interest.

That means that every story, labeled and unlabelled, gets treated equally.

In conclusion: There is no clear winner here.

Make your story stand out from the crowd | PR software
Make your story stand out from the crowd | PR software

A modern story editor perfect for publishing press releases, blog posts, newsletters, reports, and so much more. PR has never been this easy (or fun).

What do actual 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 a list of 100 journalists, bloggers, and influencers.

We received 42 replies. Here's what they said:

Most recipients confirmed there is no change in behavior for “labeled” or “unlabelled” press releases, which falls in line with our number crunching. But we did get some other insight:

One of the recurring themes was that brands and PR professionals should realize the email subject is where you pull in journalists seeking good stories. Knowing that your subject line should be around 50 characters or fewer, the word “press release” takes up quite some room in that valuable spot.

You only have one chance to make a first impression.

There's 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. Here's what we found out.

Some food for thought

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.

We do not really care if an email is labelled 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 CockMNM/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 GossTechRadar

In conclusion

Do you need to add “press release” to your email pitch to increase the impact?

No, there is no reason to do so if you provide value fast.

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 stock into the word "press release" anymore. 

Your email subject should be as engaging as it is accurate.

To get an even better idea of what sorts of press releases get covered, have a look at our gallery of real-life great press release examples or check out these case studies.

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