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May 13th, 2009

EMAIL: The Very Subject of It All


Can you tell that lately I’ve become obsessed by the topic of email? Because it occurred to me no one ever taught us how to do it — we just started sending.

En masse, the media and other influencers have, at best, come to accept email as their preferred communications tool. There is always the phone – I am sure you use it to call in pizza orders. And yes, IM and Twitter and Facebook come to play and every so often we drop something in the mail (I hope) but let’s be real, shall we?

Pitching, planning, even video footage and B-roll (filmed background material)—all are shared over digital wiring. Unlike the proverbial call, email lets you be direct and cut to the issue at hand. You don’t have to ask how the kids are and what the weather’s like or even pretend to car; you just have to ask your question or get right to your pitch and press Send. There’s no room for small talk in our lives, and there’s even less room for it in your Outlook Inbox.

Now that we understand that the entire industry is sending, receiving, pinging, and ponging, how do you actually get journalists to read and consider your pitch via email? Journalists penning well-read columns get an influx of a few hundred email pitches a day, and 90 percent of them are surely garbage. Some of our friends who work in the media get so many junky emails that they don’t even see ours sometimes.

Understandably, then, they take their sweet time wading through these while working on other stories. The secret to getting yours opened, read, and considered is in those first viewed words in the under-remembered subject line. Hmm.

Mastering the subject line is becoming an art form. Look at your own inbox. Tricky marketers send subject lines that ruse you into opening their latest mortgage payment scheme or porn site. They put your first name in it (“Subject: Bob! I Found Your Keys!”), put your friend’s name in it (“Subject: Mary Thought You Would Like This”), and offer wads of cash (“Subject: Collect Your $5,000 And Don’t Hesitate Or Else”). Therefore, to intrigue smart journalists, who are faster on the delete key than the rest of the populace, you have to be not-at-all deceptive and a heck of a lot – really lot – more creative.

When Mary Jane Journalist is rummaging through her email inbox, she’s searching for something to catch her eye. The type of thing that catches any journalist’s eye is a subject line showing that you know what she covers, the ins and outs of her column or beat, and her particular style of thought.

Now, what about a story you know is perfect for a journalist, but you aren’t sure how to get it in front of him? If you’ve worked with him, and even one pretty great story has come from the experience, stick your name right in there, “Subject: Richard from RLM here.” If those stories went as well as you think, your idea will get some play. For those who are always complaining about being too busy or never having enough time, try, “Subject: 30-Second Pitch.” Who doesn’t have half a minute? (For anyone who responds “me,” we will tell you without hesitation to grow up right this second.)

Comedy goes a long way in the in-box, too. Anything four-or-so words long that can get a chuckle will convince a journalist to dive deeper. Years ago, when the dot com dealio was in full swing, RLM put together a media barbecue with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Hell-bent on getting some beefy press coverage, we sent out emails with funny subjects, because the event itself was a bit of a joke. Lines like “Subject: Beers, Burgers and Bezos!” and “Subject: Jeff Bezos Has Great Buns” definitely caught the eye of the media, which had come to expect very buttoned-up transmissions from Jeff and his well-traind cronies.

Another tactic for subject line mastery comes straight from the 101 sales manuals. Remember, you’re always closing, and instead of debating if a journalist should even meet with you, why not debate over the time and place? Then you can worry about wowing them in person. When we hit a city for a brief media tour, instead of shooting off emails with subject lines like “Subject: Fungible Radio Service Launches In D.C.”—Geesh! How boring!—we send out emails with subject lines such as “Subject: Coffee Thursday.” It’s personal, it certainly makes them curious (did I forget to update my Outlook calendar?), and it propels the conversation straight to availability; we aren’t even considering the announcement itself. This works, and it isn’t manipulative. After all, I am emailing to my book editor just today. And you best believe she’s paying attention.

“Subject: Sorry I Am Late!”
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Find me Twittering @laermer every few minutes or so [on a good day]

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