Is Your Subject Line Worthy? And Other Secrets of the Press

How to Get Your News Stories Noticed and Published: Four Tips for PR Professionals

If You Follow These Four Simple Rules, You Are More Likely to Get the Newspaper, Television, Radio or Online Coverage You Seek

By Sean Fallon

PR professionals wait in line for a rare chance to pitch their stories face-to- face with some of the region’s top reporters at PRSA-NJ’s Meet the Media event.

Montclair, NJ – How do you grab a reporter’s attention?  It’s all in the subject line!

That’s rule number one.

Most reporters today still receive most pitches by email, but no matter how great your story, if your email subject line is lame, your pitch will be ditched.


Popular Girl-in- a-Dress blogger Charell Star was one of the panelists at PRSA-NJ’s Meet the Media event.

Charell Star, a freelance digital journalist and popular blogger, shared this piece of advice with 40 PR pros gathered at PRSA-NJ’s recent Meet the Media event, saying she “often doesn’t read past the subject line.”

This was one of many valuable pieces of advice offered by reporters at the 2017 Meet the Media event co-hosted by the New Jersey Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA NJ) and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists(NJ-SPJ), held in the spring of 2017 at Montclair State University. The panel was moderated by PRSA NJ board member Ken Hunter, President of Power Station Communications.

And, in a first for this annual event, the PR practitioners in attendance got a rare chance to speed-pitch story ideas face-to-face with reporters in 30-second bursts.

Journalists from news outlets and blogs covering the New York/New Jersey area were on the panel.  They included, in addition to Star, who is a contributor to NBC New York Live and other digital news outlets, the following reporters and editors:

  • Nick Conasaniti, New York Times political reporter covering New York and New Jersey;
  • Karin Price Mueller, Star Ledger/ Money columnist and founder of;
  • Phil Alongi, Executive Producer, NJTV News and Director of Program Development
  • Charlie Kratovil, Co-Founder & Editor of the bilingual newspaper New Brunswick Today;
  • Gwen Orel, Features Editor, The Montclair Local;
  • Richard Cowen, reporter for The Record, North Jersey’s largest daily newspaper. 

Of the many pieces of advice offered at this event about how to effectively pitch your story to the news media, these four stood out.

  • Empower the Subject Line

The subject line of your email pitch should be a mini-story that telegraphs the most important information to your media targets. This is where reporters will decide if your story is relevant to their beat and if they are even interested in opening your email.  Be sure to include the most important keywords in this concise summary.

Orel of the Montclair Local said most reporters are inundated with work and tight deadlines, so catching a reporter’s attention with a well-crafted subject line is essential.

“That subject line is really important.  It’s the best place to catch our attention.”

  • Research the Reporters You Pitch

Make sure your story is relevant to the types of articles and topics your targeted reporters would normally write about.  

A common problem identified by the panelists is shoddy PR pitching, a sin committed by PR folks who distribute mass-email pitches to journalists without any regard for whether it might interest them.

Nick Conasaniti said he gets aggravated when he receives email pitches about bra fittings, a topic he will never write about.

“It’s so important for PR firms to understand and know who they are pitching to,” Conasaniti said. “I can’t tell you how many pitches I have gotten about bra fittings. Know your audience before you reach out to us.”

A simple Google search of a journalist’s work will give you a clear understanding of what they write about.  

If you want to really catch the attention of a carefully targeted reporter, mention a specific article they’ve written about and relate it to the story you are pitching.

  • Write a Newsy Headline and Lead Paragraph

If you give reporters captivating and attention-grabbing headlines and leads, they will be interested because they know their readers will be interested.  It will also make it easier for you to sell your story to their editor or producer.

With shrinking newsrooms, Richard Cowen said, many reporters now have to write their own headlines.  “I realized how difficult it is to write a cogent headline. You want to really capture the essence of it.  You want to write a headline somewhat more dramatic than, ‘Freeholders Adopt a Budget.’”

As a PR professional, if you shoulder some of this burden by providing journalists with a good headline, you have just made their job easier—thereby improving your chances of getting your story published.

  • Include Background Information and Photos/Videos

Make sure you send reporters all the background information they will need to write an accurate story in the proper context. This can be done with a simple link to a fact sheet, for example. Even if you’ve done a great job in pitching your story, a journalist isn’t likely to cover it if they don’t have all the details they need.

Always remember to include the who, what, why, when, and where, at or near the top of your email pitch.

Gwen Orel talked about the frustration of getting pitches with incomplete details and information about the event.

“Some PR people don’t make it obvious where and when the event is, and [then] I have to ask for pictures… and then the pictures come and they don’t have captions,” Orel said. “Just send me everything at the same time.  I’m sure I’m not alone [among my colleagues], when I’m writing a story close to deadline and I realize I don’t have all the information.”

And be sure to provide links to photos, videos and other media reporters might need to publish or produce a great news story. Photos and media are much more than the cherry on top. They can really seal the deal in getting your story published.

Sean Fallon is a freelance communications specialist living in Monmouth County, NJ.

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