This is 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 out the answer, so we decided to investigate.
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.
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 pitches and interviewing journalists. This is what we learned from analysing our own data:
Labelled vs Unlabelled
There are a lot of different ways to add the press release label to your email subject line, for example:
- 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 the subject line as "labelled" 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:
The average open rate of "labelled" 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 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 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 a 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 email makes them more likely to view the email resulting in an increase of 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, labelled and unlabelled, gets treated equally.
In conclusion: There is no clear winner here.
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 list of 100 journalists, bloggers and influencers.
We received 42 replies. Here's what they said:
Most recipients confirmed there is no change in behaviour for “labelled” 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 realise 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.
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.
— Mary Branscombe, Freelance Journalist (Financial Times, The Guardian, ZDnet)
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 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 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.