James Crisp. Freelance journalist in Brussels.

Hire me for journalism, moderation, and sparkling copy

Turn your email subject lines into headlines

Journalists get more press releases sent to them every day than they can ever read.

I delete thousands of them a year without reading anything but the email’s subject line.

The best way to stand out from the competition is to make your subject line simple, snappy and strong.

Like a newspaper headline. Headlines hook the reader. Don’t sweat every last detail. That’s for the release. Just make it clear and compelling.

Here’s a good example I got yesterday from Amnesty on the refugee crisis.

“Greece: Chaos erupts at Idomeni border as Balkans route shuts down.”

This has action and information. Something is happening. I want to know more. You could tweak it slightly.

 “Chaos erupts at Greek border as refugee routes are shut down.”

This is shorter, simpler and adds more emotional impact by explicitly mentioning the refugees.

Here’s a bad example from a trade association I will call EAEX. This is an acronym I have made up. Apologies to the real EAEX, if you exist.

“The EAEX responds to the European Commission’s call for evidence.”

It doesn’t explain what the call for evidence is for or what the EAEX says in its response. And who are the EAEX and why should we care what they have to say anyway?

It is also sinfully boring. There might be a great story here. The call for evidence could be for some jaw-droppingly amazing thing.

EAEX might have responded in blank verse, while solving the meaning of life. No one will ever know because no one will open this email.

Thinking of a headline is good discipline. It forces you to think about the story hidden underneath all the information in your release. I’ll look at how to find that story in a later blog.


  • Put the words “press release” in a subject line.  You don’t need to tell a journalist what a press release is.
  • Put your organisation in the subject line unless absolutely necessary. It isn’t the news.
  • Write “Study says” or “Report finds” before saying what has been said or found. Not “Study finds cats cure cancer” but “Cats cure cancer, say experts”. The study is not the news, what it finds is.
  • Use “repeats call” or anything that makes your release seem like the olds rather than the news.


  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Keep it short, interesting and as full of action as possible.
  • Think about what the subject of your release means in practical, everyday terms. “EU legislation increases capital charges for banks” means and becomes “New EU law makes it harder for small businesses to get loans”.
  • If you are calling for change, think about why and what the outcome will be if things stay the same. This can help find your headline. So “Parliament must reach pollution compromise to pass bill” could be “Asthma sufferers at risk from pollution unless MEPs make deal”.

>>Read: What journalists really think

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This entry was posted on March 1, 2016 by in What journalists really think and tagged , , .

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