Black Hare Boss Lady Chrissie, has some irreverent advice for those foxed by what to say in an email subject line. Follow this at your own risk! We do not accept liability for client loss and red-faced regret.

Email is the modern business communication tool of choice, but it turns people into faceless robots. You don’t have to become one of the drones, boring everyone to death with your duller than dull email intros. Everyone knows the subject line is key, it’s like the picture on a box of chocolates; a naughty, wiggly finger, teasing you in.

I’ve spent many an hour agonising over a subject line, wondering how inappropriate I dare be, in order to get the attention of some pain in the arse who never goes through their emails properly. That said, most of the time a quick summary of the email content is sufficient. Not every subject line has to be a finely crafted work of marketing genius but sometimes it does help. It’s especially useful for PR work – a press release to a busy publication has a minuscule chance of survival in the din of the average newsdesk inbox. You could improve its chances with a subject line that can’t be ignored.


There are times when you have licence to be more creative and daring than others. For example, when you have a client in the adult sector, subject lines to the press are a sheer delight to write and I rarely fail to get a response to a request for coverage from even the most mainstream of titles. In fact, I look forward to the next time I can titillate a steamy-spectacled features intern on a Monday afternoon.

I bet you think this won’t really work if you’re in the industrial B2B sector. Come on people, have some imagination! (Worth a click, most definitely worth a click…)

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If you can’t use filth, you could try urgency. I remember testing out some subject lines once, at a previous agency. I sent an EDM to my boss, with the line URGENT, OPEN NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She came back from lunch and opened it in a panic, despite it being sat in the middle of a pile of ten new emails. This was of course a joke and I’m not really suggesting you do this, but it might depend on how desperate you are. You are at serious risk of never being taken seriously again. And it generally only works if you recognise the recipient as an individual. It it comes from a company, it screams spam of the worst kind. Like, past-its-sell-by-date, sweepings off the factory floor spam.

Even as an individual, you should use with caution. Only the other day, one of my suppliers was moaning that he has an infuriating client who sends every single email to him, with URGENT: at the beginning of the subject line. Not even 1 in 10 of the emails she sends are urgent. So now he makes sure he reads and actions them all last. Not quite the reaction she was hoping for! Silly mare.


Subject lines are equally vital for email marketing campaigns. I have a pesky client who sends out his weekly newsletters with a subject line beginning: Re. (So you immediately think it’s a reply to something you’ve sent.) It gets me every time it lands in my inbox, I open it straight away thinking it’s the latest part of some recent correspondence. So it must fool other people as well! Although I have warned him that it might annoy people to the point of unsubscribing, especially if they’re not that interested in the content of the email. But possibly a risk worth taking…?

On a more serious note and as a general rule, remember the following:

  • You’re talking to a human not a machine. Show some personality.
  • Exaggerate as much as is reasonable. (Don’t tell an out and out lie, the content will just disappoint and irritate.)
  • Use urgency carefully and only when it really matters.
  • Apply innuendos where you think they’ll be appreciated, avoid them where you think you’ll cause genuine offence! Upsetting Maud in accounts ain’t gonna get your invoice paid any quicker.
  • Size matters. That’s not an innuendo! Most studies show that very short and very long email subject lines have both shown a significant spike in open rates. Give it some thought and consider each email and campaign individually.