There was a time when the world got its immediate information only through the radio and since that was also an age when the sun would never set on the British Empire, the broadcaster who was synonymous with English language news was the noble BBC. While the sun has long set on the mighty Empire, the BBC is still arguably the world’s best news organization. Especially at a time such as the Christmas holidays when your customers are pressed for time and just scanning email even more than they would at any other time of the year, applying the BBC’s headline secrets can help you craft subject lines that capture their fleeting holiday attention.

The BBC masters the 5 critical headline skills
The five critical aspects of writing any successful email subject line are:

  1. Brief. Keep it short as people don’t read as much as they just scan emails
  2. Front-loaded. Have it front loaded with the keywords crammed at the beginning Comprehensible. Let it be understandable even out of context as it is usually viewed as part of a long list
  3. Summarizing. Ensure that the subject line summarizes the email as concisely as possible
  4. Relevant. Link your subject line to the predictability that it is directly relevant to the entire email
A master class in writing subject lines

These five elements are the lifeblood in the structure of every BBC headline. Check this recent collection of writing tour de force for yourself and see if this doesn’t represent a master class in writing headlines or subject lines for that matter:

  • Gulf Coast Braces For Storm
  • Child Benefit Deadline Day Looms
  • Cameron Defends Plans For Nurses
  • Apple Axes China Firewall App
  • Fresh India Protests Over New State
All 5 of those headlines would fit into just 1 Tweet
There you go, you’ve gone around the world and have been fully updated on what you need to know in a mere 31 words! It is almost unbelievable when we sit and try to squeeze what we’re trying to say about our brand’s latest adventure into a 140 character tweet that the average BBC headline is 34 characters long! If you really want to worship the ground that the BBC headline writers walk upon, consider that those five headlines are actually 139 characters and all five of them would fit in one Tweet! Think of that next time your breakfast summary doesn’t fit into a Tweet.
News radio roots have evolved into a culture of concise writing
The BBC had its roots as a radio network so it evolved around the requirement to provide information as concisely as possible. Most people are actually amazed the first time they see a radio news script as it seems to be so short that it couldn’t possibly have taken up the full five minutes of the news update at the top of the hour. The truth is that when writing for a newscaster’s measured delivery it is imperative to have the words concentrated and to the point. Sound like a subject line? Yup, you got it.
Ceefax could only display a few words per screen
However radio is not the only reason why the BBC is such a master of the concise headline. A news vector which never really did make any headway in North America as contrasted to Europe where it was wildly popular for decades is the Ceefax. This was not a fax but a channel on TV where blocky CGA/DOS type graphics provided people with a series of pages summarizing the current news in an interactive manner. Most Americans don’t have a clue that as early as 1974 you could interact with your European TV, but that service was so popular that it lasted until last year! Ceefax represented the ultimate in concise writing as the resolution of 70s eras TVs allowed very few legible words to be displayed at any one time.

Applying the precision and conciseness of the BBC’s headline policies to your subject line writing will reward your brand with a wonderful Christmas present of higher open-rate metrics!