What about quotes? Some students put "A quote" in
the outline of paragraphs. This is a good idea but it's only half
right. Quotes definitely enliven a release -- I never write a
press release without at least one quote -- but it's wrong to put
"A quote" in the line-up of paragraphs.
Why are quotes effective? Here are a few reasons:
Quotes add personality -- you see those little
curly quote marks in any kind of literature and something warm
bubbles in you... there is a human being in the room, and not just
a load of "ideas"...
Quotes add authority to a press release --
it's one thing to say poverty is on the rise, and it's another
thing to cite state statistics... it's one thing to say that the city is behind
this project, and it's another thing to be able to
Cline said today, "The city is behind this project." ...
Quotes allow you to use colorful phrases -- in
a release about resource allocation of city funds you might write
City officials are concerned that the
park district is consuming a disproportionate share of the revenue
resources... or you might quote your client as saying
"The parks are hogging all the funds."
That's a much pithier and more memorable phrase, but
it's the kind of language you could never use in a
news item -- except in the form of a quote.
Quotes allow you to inject opinion --
although journalistic style permits you to convey enthusiasm, you
have to stop short of hype... if you're writing about a new play
that's opening, you can't claim that It will be the biggest hit in Turtle Bay
since Elvis Costello played at the Westland Auditorium ... the editor would consider that pure hype -- that's
your opinion -- and it would make your release less
professional... but it would be perfectly appropriate to quote the
director of the play, Bob Balsam -- "Even before it opens, we've got a hit on our
hands," says director Bob Balsam. "Our advance sales are stronger
than the time Elvis Costello played at the Westland Auditorium."
Quotes make the client happy -- this is not a
silly reason to use a quote... if your client wants to put his or
her personal stamp on the project, it's a very practical
So why don't we put 'A quote' in the outline of
paragraphs?" Because a quote is a way to deliver your point
-- it is not the point itself. When you use a quote just
for the sake of quoting someone, you are guaranteeing that it will
be an empty quote -- sheer puff and hot air.
Instead, let the quote do some of your heavy lifting.
In my pre-writing, I will often circle an item on the
outline of paragraphs to indicate that the point will be
conveyed by a quote. For example I will circle point 6,
"Challenge to the community." This means that when I get to that
paragraph, instead of writing
Westland College Student Association is issuing a challenge to the
other civic institutions of Turtle Bay, to take responsibility for
the other six days of the week.
I will use a quote to do the work of that paragraph:
challenging the other civic institutions of Turtle Bay to follow
our lead," says Westland College Student Association president Sue
Jennings. "We're taking care of Wednesdays but there are still six
other days of the week."
Always make sure that the quote advances the story.
You can't afford to have any dead weight in your press release. A
quote is there to help the story move along.
Three last things you should know about quotes
Always attribute -- You must never use a quote
without identifying the person being quoted. You can't say, "It was terrific," one
member of the audience said. Readers (and editors)
need to know the person quoted and who they are in the context of
the story (i.e., not just Sue Jennings, but Sue Jennings,
president of the Westland College Student Association). As a practical matter, since I'm not going to allow you to make
up "facts", the only people you could quote for this release would
be Sue Jennings, David Jackson or (if you called the mayor's press
office) Mayor Jimmy Cline.
No partial quotes -- Don't write Sue Jennings said that
"we're challenging the other civic institutions to follow our
-- that's not a complete sentence; don't begin a quote
in the middle of a sentence.
Where do quotes come from? -- We'll be talking
about research techniques later... often your quotes will come
from interviews you conduct to collect information from your
client and others. But to cut to the chase: you write the
quotes. It's the same principle as if you were a
speechwriter -- you are expected to create the best quotes for the
occasion, and then submit them for approval. Once approved by the
client, "your" words become the client's words... just as surely
as speechwriter Ted Sorensen's phrase, "Ask not what your country
can do for you..." became John F. Kennedy's famous saying.
Do not submit a press release draft with a gap in it where you
expect a quote to be, expecting your client to "say it in your own
words." Your client expects you to write the quote. If
appropriate, you can then present it deferentially -- "I took the
liberty of quoting you where I think it will be most effective; of
course, feel free to change the words any way you like." Any
client used to dealing with professional PR writers will not need
to be handled deferentially -- they'll understand what you're
doing, and will expect you to act as their ghostwriter in the