You may not realise it, but every time you send an e-mail, you are entering a competition.
Spam. Meeting requests. Updates from some forum you signed up for (but can’t quite remember why). More spam. CC’s. Facebook news feeds. I receive dozens of these sorts of e-mails every single day.
One consequence of living in an information-saturated world is that everyone tunes out more. We pay little or no attention to most of the messages that come our way. So if you want people to pay attention to the e-mails you send out, then you have to learn to get through.
You need a PR strategy for your e-mail.
The first thing to do is know your audience. What are their concerns? The most common mistake here is to confuse your concerns with theirs.
Second point: your subject heading is your headline. My headline has to meet the reader’s concerns and priorities as closely as possible. Do you read news stories with boring titles?
Let’s say I’m in events management and I want to arrange a sales meeting with a new client, The British Council, who are organising their annual dinner. To increase the chance of getting the message near the top of the client’s agenda, I have to find some common ground.
As a headline, ‘Annual Dinner’ may or may not break through the reader’s attention barrier. I’m not willing to chance it. So I put myself in my client’s shoes. Through a little research, I discover that The British Council is promoting environmental awareness and their dinner is a celebration of that principle.
The third point is to use connotations. These are the emotional attachments that we form with certain words. The British Council has a big financial (and therefore emotional) investment in their event. So I have to think how I can tap into those emotions in relation to the event they have planned.
Brainstorming, I come up with “green”, “eco-friendly”, “responsible”, and so on. These are relevant but very predictable. Remember, we are in a competition here – for the reader' attention and for their business.
So I brainstorm a little more and I come up with “Zero Footprint Party?” as my subject heading. This is of course a reference to carbon footprints. Having a zero carbon footprint implies environmental responsibility, which is a very positive, relevant idea to associate with my client. “Party” speaks for itself and is our common interest.
Only now can I begin to write the e-mail itself – which should be just long enough to leave the client wanting to take the next step. This leads to the final tip: apply Ockham’s razor – don’t make anything any longer or shorter than it needs to be:
Re: Zero Footprint Party
Thanks for your time on the phone yesterday. I’ve attached a proposal, within your budget, for a themed annual dinner.
When could we meet to take things forward?
Tom Hayton is Acting Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning opportunities from management and communication skills training to developing English skills. Visit our website at www.britishcouncil.|org.my or e-mail me at email@example.com