10 things we learned from outreaching 5,000 cold emails

Posted on 27/02/2018 by Team Hallam

Are you tired of sending cold emails that get little to no reply rates? It's one thing to identify new publicity and link opportunities, but make a bad first impression in front of your recipient and your brand's SEO strategy could suffer! Here we look at 10 findings from outreaching 5000 cold emails.

Please note, the data collected for this case study was gathered over a year (2017/18) from Hallam’s earned media team and the findings mentioned may differ in outreach success from industry to industry.

Crafting a cold outreach email can be tough, especially since you’re starting a conversation with a person you’ve never met.

We all receive them, and if you work in PR, you’ll know it’s pretty impossible to get past sending one.

Imagine approaching a stranger on the train, asking them to promote your product or business, and even tell their friends and family about it!

While it doesn’t work exactly like that (thank goodness), the concept remains the same.

Countless relationships with the media are built through cold emails. If you have an awesome bit of content that you want to promote to generate those all-important backlinks to your website, it’s crucial you understand how to master cold emails so you never make a bad first impression!

Here are 10 things we found from outreaching over 5,000 cold emails.

1. Write opinion pieces and guest articles

Using the subject context “Opinion Article” increased reply rates by a whopping 149%.

The internet clearly loves a little controversy, and an opinion piece offers insight to journalists from thought leaders that know a topic best.

Brands that advocate for change and progression separate themselves from the masses. The year 2017 clearly proved this, with brands campaigning everything from racial diversity and gender equality to rights for refugees, and the environment.

When done correctly, an opinion article is persuasive writing at its best, offering to position your business as unique thought-leaders in your industry.

However, it is important to be cautious. You don’t want to be put under heat by the likes of Pepsi and Dove when they completely missed the mark and stirred major controversy with racially sensitive campaigns.


Whilst you should never strive to attract bad press for your brand with an opinion piece, 2018 will only see more brands continue to campaign their opinions. Here’s a checklist to keep your opinion piece on check:

  1. Focus on one issue and get to the point
  2. Be factual
  3. Provide insight without being “preachy”
  4. Be timely: strike at issues when they matter most
  5. Aim to be controversial but NOT outrageous
  6. Use powerful and direct terms

2. Avoid sending announcements or latest news

The worst subject headlines for reply rates include the subject context “Announcement”, “Interactive Map”, “Ultimate Guide”, “Latest News” and “Press Release”, all of which decreased reply rates from 51% to 100%.

In fact, having no email context at all would be better than using the above terms with a comparatively insignificant decrease in replies by just 5%.

Before you send out a merger announcement or an event press release about your company, ask yourself this: how will this benefit the lives of your target publication’s readers? And how can I make the announcement interesting enough that my friends and family would want to click and read through it?

Perhaps your company’s latest news may be of interest to your customers, but not so much to the wider media. It is important that you differentiate your marketing material from your brand’s publicity to ensure you build lasting media relationships.

3. Include a question in the subject headline

47% of email recipients decide whether they are interested in an email by the subject headline alone.

The best thing a subject headline can be is engaging, and those that included a question performed 11% better for reply rates than subject lines phrased as statements.

Posing a compelling question piques curiosity and will draw your readers in. For example, you could try: Are you using this marketing strategy to amplify your business? Or: Are you making these rookie facebook advertising mistakes?

4. Don’t include your brand name in the subject headline

Including a brand name in the subject headline decreased open rates by 6%.

Unless you are 100% certain your target publication is already aware of your business and what you offer, it is best to keep your brand name out of the subject headline.

While this may seem to contradict the whole practice of promoting your brand, this will actually ensure two important things:

  1. The recipient will focus on the quality of the content rather than spinning it into a sales opportunity
  2. No advertorial budget will need to be allocated

Sponsored content, also known as paid or advertorial posts, are becoming more saturated in the media industry and for a good reason too – more and more brands are realising the importance of brand awareness and publicity.

The bottom line is, if you want your content to look naturally placed, organic and interesting to your target customer, paying for sponsored content has the potential to damage the editorial integrity of your brand’s image.

Here is an email I received from an editor after sending out an email that included a brand name in the subject headline:


Think about it – would you rather read a paid post on “Top Valentines Gifts – Sponsored by Cadbury” or a similar article which was published in the interest of the publication to provide you useful content?

Yes, sponsored content can be interesting too, but if your content was that great would the publication even ask for payment to run the story?

The answer is probably not – you should always aim to attain editorial coverage and the key is to avoid seeming branded.

5. Greetings with “Good Morning” garnered the most email opens and replies

Sending out cold emails in the morning are 172% more likely to get replied to than those sent in the afternoon.

After your subject headline, greetings are the second most important part of your cold email.

We found that the best days to send out cold emails were from Tuesday to Thursday mornings, which increased reply rates by 86%.

6. Don’t you dear

Using “Dear” as a greeting decreased reply rates by 24%.

Depending on the type of publication you’re sending a cold email to, professional greeting preferences will always vary.

But as generic as “Dear” and “Hi” greetings are, they add little value and personalisation to your cold email.

If you’ve done research on your recipient, why not mention a commonality? For example:

[first name], I noticed your recent article on [article name] and thought I’d reach out.

Or how about adding an emoji to your greeting?

Hi [First Name] ????

There are many easy ways to break the ice and build human connections via greetings in your cold email. Stand out and you’ll increase your chances of receiving a reply!

7. Forget the 100 email word count rule

Despite many email guides out there, we found that email counts above 100 words actually performed 5% better than word counts below 100.

As long as your emails do not surpass a ridiculous amount of unreadable text, and you get your main point across, strictly following a limit of 100 words in your email is far from necessary.

Here are a few tips to keep your emails concise and straight to the point:

  1. Assume everyone had a good weekend
  2. Cut out extra words and simplify as much as possible
  3. Define a clear call to action – avoid asking too many questions

8. Ditch the bullet points

  • Using bullet points decreased chances of reply by 17%.

Complicating your email body with bullet points or numbers may put off your recipient from attempting to read through it.

Whilst bullet points are useful for digesting a load of information, feeling the need to use too many may actually be a warning sign that your pitch is not concise enough.

If you have included bullet points in your email pitch, make sure that:

  1. There are no more than three
  2. You can skim through the points easily
  3. And most importantly, they add value to your main point

9. The best emails for replies had no attachments

This one surprised me, but emails with no attachments actually increased reply rates by 10%.

If you are promoting a guest post or opinion article, the trick here is to send an initial email requesting the journalist’s confirmation of interest before sending over the content.

This ensures two things:

  1. If they are interested in the content they will reply
  2. And if they reply, you are no longer a cold email stranger!

This clever email tactic also alleviates any published press coverage that you were unaware of as the journalist never replied and proceeded to run the story anyway. Taking control of where you send out your content will give you an easy job of monitoring expected coverage.

The only disadvantage to this tactic is that once the journalist replies with their interest to receive the copy, the email has built up a predetermined content expectation.

So if you do decide to try this email pitch process, make sure that your initial email sets out exactly what the content entails to ensure the best return for press coverage!

10. Including an image in the email body increased reply rates

Including an image saw an increase in reply rates by 33%.

Simply put, an image instantly provides visual context to your email pitch. Think about it: when was the last time you read an article without any images attached to it? The same concept can be applied to emails!

If you do decide to attach an image to your cold email body, remember these points:

  1. Make sure it’s relevant and supports your main point
  2. Only include one – too many may disrupt load speeds and confuse your call to action
  3. Make sure its formatted for mobile – send test emails to yourself and view it on your mobile, does it look right?

Over to you

Hopefully, this case study has given you some insight into crafting effective cold emails.  To recap here are the 10 things you should look to incorporate in your next pitch to the media:

  1. Write opinion pieces 
  2. Avoid sending announcements
  3. Include a question in the subject headline
  4. Don’t include your brand name in the subject headline
  5. Send cold emails in the morning
  6. Avoid using cliche greetings like Dear and Hi
  7. Forget the 100 email word count rule
  8. Ditch the bullet points
  9. Send introductory content emails
  10. Include an image within your email body

If you’d like help with your digital PR campaigns, then get in touch with our experts today!

If you need help with your Digital PR don't hesitate to contact us.

Enjoy this article?

Subscribe for weekly insights

10 things we learned from outreaching 5,000 cold emails

Let’s thrive together

Get in touch to take the first step.

Contact us