“How important are quotes in press releases?” A PR executive asked that in a LinkedIn public relations group last week, and it stimulated an interesting discussion.
Here were some of the best answers (paraphrased) that I think represent how PR professionals should be using quotes:
• Quotes are useful to differentiate opinions from facts. They’re what allow a company to describe the significance of the announcement by clarifying its meaning, offering context and often wrapping marketing messages.
• Strong quotes are not only useful—they’re often what make a story compelling.
• The best quotes come from customers and other people outside the company, because they confirm the value being claimed in the release. Internal people obviously have a bias.
• Too many journalists simply “rip and read” press releases and reuse them as is. If a PR person doesn’t tell a good story and include strong quotes, the end result won’t be what one seeks.
• Journalists generally require some degree of attribution in articles. A quote is a good starting point because it offers a different point of view, tone, and language from that of the person who wrote the release.
• Weak quotes, like weak writing, should not be included in a press release.
The key takeaway: Use a quote that adds something you couldn’t write yourself.
You can’t get a powerful quote unless you ask the right questions. Jeff Haden offers great advice to asking questions that get results in “5 Ways to Ask the Perfect Question.” They are:
1. Limit the actual question to one sentence. You can elaborate about the issue in detail, but make the question one sentence to elicit a direct answer. This also helps ensure questions are open-ended.
2. Don’t offer options, unless they’re truly the only options. You don’t want to limit your source by presenting him/her with choices.
3. Ask for clarification. If you don’t understand an answer, neither will your audience. Don’t pretend you understand an answer. Haden advises following up with something like this: “That sounds really good. Let me make sure I don’t miss anything, though. Can you walk me through it one more time?”
4. Follow the same principles for follow-up questions. Stay short, open-ended, and neutral.
5. Talk as little as possible. You get to say your bit in the press release. The interview is your source’s time to talk. PR pros should listen carefully for those golden quotes and information that commands a follow-up question.
William J. Comcowich is the editor of Media Monitoring News and the CyberAlert Blog, where a version of the story originally appeared. He is also founder, president and CEO of CyberAlert, Inc.