Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to write quotations for press releases

Do you have to include a quotation in a press release?


Then why bother to include one, other than that it's a PR custom?

No canned messaging, please

Adding a quotation to a press release gives you an extra opportunity to gain relevance in the lives of the recipients. Unfortunately, most companies squander this opportunity by slapping quotation marks on either side of canned messaging.

Credible? No. Compelling? No. Likely to induce the MEGO effect (My Eyes Glaze Over)? Yes.

Instead, consider quotations the perfect spot for tying your announcement to external context -- that is, something happening outside your company that's on your audience's mind. Make your commentary opinionated or interpretive.

Real-life example of context and opinion

Here's an example. [3/30/10 addendum: This quote example drew criticism on] This an excerpt from a press release announcing that a top news exec is joining my employer's executive team. Richard Sambrook, previously the BBC's director of global news, has become Edelman PR's global vice chairman and chief content officer.

The italics and parentheses in our CEO's quote below are mine:
"... His journalism and senior media company management resume is difficult to rival (opinion); equally important to us
and our clients, Richard has been at the forefront of the digitisation of
news and its interaction with the audience and stakeholders (external

This quotation helps answer the questions "why him" and "why now."

Yikes! Not this!

In contrast, this version would have been bad:
"We're delighted to announce that Richard will round out our executive team by
helping us deliver on our commitment to provide best-of-breed PR to all our
I hope you're laughing. Familiar, isn't it? Too many press release quotes sound just like this.

Anxiety-ending tip: Don't write, just tweak

Here's a great trick I picked up from David Dickstein, whose role at Intel is at times similar to mine: Don't write a quote at all. Finish writing your release, then circle back to something you already wrote and slap quotation marks around it. Then tweak it to add external context that's on your audience's minds. Then tweak again to add interpretation or opinion.

The common pitfall is to write a press release, all except for the quote, and then say, "OK, now, what should I say for the quote?" At that point, your mind is empty, so no wonder it's a futile struggle. Always keep this in mind: relevant content first, wordsmithing later.

"Why this? Why now?"

I often hear about people trying to "sound like an executive" or "sound smart" or "write in the CEO's voice." Boollschitt. (Excuse me!) That's fake. Don't do it.

Focus on answering these questions: Why this? Why now?