How to Make Your Quotes, Well, More Quotable

Myra Oppel
Myra Oppel

Contemporary Turkish playwright and novelist Mehmet Murat İldan has several philosophical quotes on quotations, including these:

“To read quotations is to live in a planet with multiple suns!”

“In the garden of literature, the highest and the most charismatic flowers are always the quotations.”

Have you ever written a news release with a quote that special or profound? Yeah, me neither.

For news releases and other public relations materials, maybe the goal isn’t for your CEO’s quotes to end up in Bartlett’s but to make some of the clips in tomorrow’s news roundup.

Why do we include quotes in our material? We use quotes, as reporters do, for a variety of reasons, including:

• To provide critical information

• To add credibility, expert opinion or a sense of being there

• To give a variety of perspectives

• To help move a story along and create breaks in dense prose and facts

• To help time-crunched reporters sound like they did interviews even when they couldn’t

MORE PERSONALITY

Quotes, unlike factual prose, don’t have to be objective. Quotes can inject personality and help indicate the emotion you’re hoping to elicit.

To entice a reporter to pick up your quote, it must sound like an actual person said it in an interview.

Take this quote, which is something I might find when reviewing one of our news releases:

“We are committed to making energy usage data available to customers to help them better manage their energy consumption more efficiently.”

While we do want our electric utility customers to be able to manage their consumption, some people might not understand that what we’re really trying to say is more like:

“We’re giving customers tools so they better understand how and when they use electricity. By giving more information, we’re making it easier for customers to use energy more wisely.”

A STRONG VOICE

In other words, make it conversational instead of stilted. “Press Release,” a language that unfortunately isn’t dead but should be.

You should know the voice of the people you’re quoting. Are they formal? Do they use colloquialisms or contractions in their normal speech? Most people speak more casually, so try to mimic regular speech patterns.

While it’s important to know whom you’re quoting, knowing your audience is more important.

Avoid jargon and company-speak at all costs, even if the person you’re quoting would speak that way. Talk to people outside your circle in a way they can understand.

How do you know your quotes sound authentic? Read them aloud to someone else, especially an objective outsider, to see if they make sense but also add value.

Quotes help sew together a story in an interesting way, but they also need to contribute information.

“We are working very hard to restore power.”

Will any reporter include that quote in a news story? Not likely. Quotes need to give color but also information. If nothing factual is included, you need to rework your quote.

“Our line crews understand the hardship the outages are causing for our customers during this blizzard. They’re working in bucket trucks in bitter wind and snow for 16-hour shifts so they can get power back on as quickly as possible.”

This contains factual information: We work 16-hour shifts, even in harsh conditions. It also is emotional: We care about our customers and are willing to sacrifice for them.

EMOTIONAL RESCUE

It also subtly elicits emotion: Please be patient because we are working as fast as we can in extreme weather to get your lights working again.

Another critical element is to consider whether the person you’re quoting is the right source.

The quote about working in harsh conditions is strong coming from an executive, but it might be stronger and more credible coming from one of the line workers in the field.

Three of our linemen helped save a toddler from a house fire a couple of years ago. Our comments came from workers on the scene, not bosses in the office.

Quoting the boots on the ground gave us more detail and more color, drew more interest and got more media play. After all, that’s your goal: telling your story and getting your quotes quoted by the media.

(Learn more about effective PR writing by attending PR News’ Writing Boot Camp, which takes place April 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Featured speakers include Elizabeth Hillman, senior VP, communications at Discovery Education, and Christopher Jenkins, editor, The Washington Post.)

CONTACT:

Myra Oppel is regional communications VP for Pepco Holdings Inc. She can be reached at myra.oppel@pepcoholdings.com

 This article originally appeared in the April 13, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.