What about Quotes?

I never write a press release without at least one quote -- 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 write, Mayor Cline said today, "The city is behind this project." Quotes add third-party credibility – information straight from the horse's mouth.

  • 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, Dale Levensan -- "Even before it opens, we've got a hit on our hands," says director Dale Levensan. "Our advance sales are stronger than the time Elvis Costello played at the Westland Auditorium."

  • Quotes allow you to restate your message. This can be especially effective when you use a quote as the last graf, to wrap up your release. The message you packaged in your lead can be restated, in stronger, more colorful personal language, to bring readers back to the point where they began.

  • 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 reason.

We never put 'A quote' in the outline of paragraphs?" -- 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 (that is, on the Message Planner), I will often circle an item on the outline of paragraphs to indicate that the point will be conveyed by a quote. For example, when writing a release on "From the Heart," in my outline of paragraphs, paragraph six will be about the students' "Challenge to the community." I will circle that item on the Message Planner. This means that when I get to that paragraph, instead of writing

    The 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:

    "We're 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

  1. 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.

  2. No partial quotes -- Don't write Sue Jennings said that "we're challenging the other civic institutions to follow our lead." -- that's not a complete sentence; don't begin a quote in the middle of a sentence.

  3. No puffy or "excited" quotes -- The editor doesn't care that "everyone here is extremely excited about the new developments!" or other evidences of enthusiasm or self-praise. The editor wants the facts that generate the enthusiasm, not the raw enthusiasm in a gushy quote.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 press release.

  6. For more information about quotes, check out the wonderful Purdue University "OWL" (Online Writing Lab) -- for punctuation and for general information