How to write an effective email subject line for media requests

I can’t believe I’m writing this in 2017, but judging from the state of my inbox there are still a lot of people who need this information. This guide is aimed at journalists and other media people who are looking for a quote or some other favour from me in a time-sensitive fashion from a cold email. Friends, of course, can feel free to keep doing what they’re doing :) 

Your main goal is to communicate to me the entire content of your email in the preview that will show up on my phone or in the single line of gmail’s inbox before I even open it. This will let me know how urgently I need to open it at all and thus greatly increase your chance of getting a quick reply, especially if I’m travelling, at a conference,  have just woken up, or am simply on my phone.

For the same reason, I prefer all media requests to come via email — please do not message me via social media, call, or text me, even if you have this contact info from previous engagements or mutual friends. Use that subject line!

Here are some great subject lines for media requests:

  • NPR on emoji interview request for 5pm thurs (live)
  • $new_meme Wired media request by COB tomorrow

I want to know: what the outlet is, briefly what the topic is (not “language” or “linguistics” – I am a linguist so all my interviews are about that), whether you want to interview me (i.e. media/interview request) or for me to write for you, and ideally what your deadline or timeline is. I don’t care if it has real syntax, just put in all the relevant words.

Here are some terrible subject lines for media people:

  • A question
  • Time to chat?
  • Wondering your thoughts
  • Are kids these days ruining the English language with all their texting and selfies? [Way too long]
  • Anything containing my own name – I know what my name is and spammers know how to use mailmerge now, so it just makes you look like one

Notice how uninformative these are! From an unknown sender, the first three also look identical to general fanmail and questions that I get from my blog, which are not as urgent as media requests.

You don’t need to dance around the fact that you’re requesting an interview: I’m used to it. In fact, I have filters set up in gmail to ensure that emails containing interview, journalist, media request always get flagged as media, but you might be surprised at how often they don’t get tripped — especially in second emails from journalists I’ve previously talked with, since those don’t contain “Hi, I’m a journalist working on…”. Even if I know you already, summarizing your entire query in your subject line is still best practices for time-sensitive requests.

Editors and radio producers, keep doing what you’re doing, your subject lines are generally excellent. Newish writers, this guide is for you. Your other sources will also appreciate it.

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