In my book, I tell a story about how shocked I was when I started working in PR that all quotes did not come straight from the people to whom they’re attributed. I remember asking my boss at the time if I should call our client to get a quote from him for a press release, and she burst out laughing! I quickly learned that – dare I say – most of the quotes within PR materials are written by either a PR person or another savvy writer… and then sent to the “quote owner” for review, changes and ultimate approval.
I felt betrayed when I learned this at first! It seemed like I was living in my very own version of The Truman Show and that suddenly what I thought to be true was just a charade. Luckily I now understand the nature of the industry a whole lot better and have learned the reasons behind the practice of writing other people’s quotes. You’ll be glad to know I am no longer upset and dismayed about it, and I hope you aren’t either.
In any event, if you’re in a start-up and handling your own PR and written materials, you won’t have a trusty PR person to mastermind your words for you. But you still need to make sure that every public-facing quote put out on your (or your company’s) behalf is rock solid. Quotes can be valuable within PR efforts, because they humanize your brand and make a business leader seem invested in her business and accessible to her audience.
While there are nearly endless scenarios that would require you to whip up a quote, here are a few of the most common:
- A reporter asks for some commentary on a story he or she is writing about your company or industry.
- You’re putting together a press release to announce an important piece of news (bonus tip: press releases should always include an insightful quote from someone within your company, as well as a quote from a customer, partner or other third-party source if possible. Press release template found here.)
- A partner or customer would like to include a blurb about your business on their own website, newsletter or other marketing materials.
So when the need arises, you need to get a-writin'. Here are some tricks to putting together someone else’s quote – or your own!
#1. Write like you speak.
This is perhaps the most important tip for writing a good quote – period. Many people make the mistake of writing commentary in a very formal, proper way and it’s a major repellant to anyone reading your words. People won’t respond favorably to someone who sounds overly stiff, even if they can’t pinpoint what it is that turned them off.
Furthermore, it’s extremely common to see quotes that include highly sophisticated words in them. This is usually done in an effort to sound smart, but instead makes you seem like you're not a real human or trying way too hard.
So, think of being conversational! Write your quote with simple, everyday, clear language – and then read it aloud. See if anything sounds odd or stilted. Consider if you’d actually speak like this to another human being and, if the answer is no, go back to the drawing board.
#2. Avoid cliché words.
This is the next biggie when it comes to quote writing. Buzzy industry terms or general descriptive words that are used repetitively become stale and uninteresting. You sound like every other Joe Schmo out there if your quote talks about how “excited” you are to be “honored” with blah-blah-blah. And you sound like a salesperson if you go on and on about how “revolutionary” and “game-changing” your product is.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid industry jargon in all quotes, unless a reporter is specifically asking for you to weigh in on a specific trend in your field. Remember that many people who read your words are not in your line of work and may not understand acronyms or nuanced catchphrases, even if they're commonplace among you and your peers.
And when it comes to words that are more generally used and have become trite, I’ve outlined several of the big offenders above. Avoid these as much as you can. The goal is to be creative and expressive in your quote, all while sounding like a real human being. It’s not as hard as it sounds, I promise! Just give it some thought and if you find yourself sneaking in a few words that you’ve heard elsewhere a thousand times, toss them out and find some less-likely ones who could use a little love.
#3. Keep it concise.
And yes, like with everything – we’re back to brevity! A quote is an invitation to share your thoughts, but you get a gold star and maybe a box of chocolates if you can use as few words as possible to convey them. People have short attention spans, and appreciate succinctness. Not to mention that some of the best communicating often comes from plain speech. So cut out words wherever you can and keep it short and sweet.
If you write quotes for others (or yourself) with these key tips in mind, you’ll end up with a worthy quote every time. And remember that the words you share digitally remain in existence forever, so it’s important they’re first-class – right? Right.