Friday, March 4, 2011

Why quotes in press releases are useless

I get hundreds of press releases, and whether they come from large corporations or small businesses, they typically share one thing: useless quotes.

I get where you PR folks are coming from. Your client probably tells you to write a quote that combines branding, marketing, product description and consumer appeal (and likely a few I've missed) all in one little package.

The result is that you write something like this:

"Building on over 75 years in the coffee industry, our fresh, flavorful, fair-trade coffee from 14 countries around the world is the perfect pick-me-up for your day," said John Smith, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Area 1 Sales for A-1 Coffee. "Our recent launch of our newest blend of affordable fair-trade coffee will revolutionize the home-brewed coffee industry by incorporating affordability with do-it-yourself ease in your own home, and you won't have to wonder if farmers in Rwanda were exploited for your cup of joe."

I hope you're laughing at the absurdity of that quote, but I get those all the time.

Sure, there's information in there that's usable, and if I'm being lazy, I might use the second half of that quote, but probably not, because I'm going to throw a BS flag on the whole "revolutionize the industry" part.

These quotes appeal to your clients because they manage to get everything across in one seemingly tight little package that an overworked journalist can just toss into a story.

But we hate them. No one really talks like that. We know you made it up, and someone signed off on it so you could throw it into your release.

If I decide to write the story, I'll paraphrase the quote, if you're lucky. It's a mouthful, and it's blatant PR. (And I'm going to find a way around using his lengthy title.)

The reality is that a quote like that is just self-serving (though that's probably inevitable in a press release), and it sounds like advertising. If you want that text in the paper, buy an ad.

My advice to PR people is that, when writing quotes, interview the person. Ask the questions a journalist would, and write what he or she says. The quotes will ring true, and they are far more likely to be used.

If that's not an option, pretend someone is asking you the questions. Write shorter quotes that highlight small areas of your message. Forget pretentious words and phrases like "affordable price point," "revolutionary," "out-of-the-box" and anything else you've heard a hundred times.

Reading quotes that try to do too much just makes me cringe. I know I'm going to have to pick up the phone and get someone to say the same basic thing in regular English, and it's more work for me, especially when calls aren't returned. Then I'll be less inclined to cover your company in the future.

Tell your client that you're more likely to get the message into a news story through more frequent use of smaller quotes than one mouthful no self-respecting journalist will use. After all, you were hired to publicize the company. Don't you want to do that in the most effective way possible?