How to elicit and use vibrant executive quotes

The arid platitudes that emanate from the corner offices usually add nothing to a release or news story. Help your honchos with key questions and other incisive guidance.

Executive quotes are a main component of news releases and other PR materials.

They’re also usually quite horrible.

They’re typically verbose, unhelpful and downright boring. Executive quotes in PR releases rarely make an impression, because they seldom say anything worthwhile or memorable. The executives sound like robots. Journalists rarely include them in articles. They probably stop reading them after the first “We’re excited about …”

Noteworthy quotes by executive or subject-matter experts add vitality to a story. They can provoke emotion, create images and provide anecdotes or unique perspectives.

“Quotes are your best opportunity to add some appeal, humor, sizzle or auspicious information to your press release without it coming off as too promotional or staged,” advises Lisa Goldsberry at Axia Public Relations. “Quotes can also lend authority to a statement or opinion if they’re attributed to someone specific and relevant to the story. The problem comes when you have the perfect source for the quote, but the actual words fall flat.”

The following recommendations can help PR and corporate communications pros compose quotes that editors include in articles and that people read and remember:

Ask the right questions. Before writing a quote, ask the executive or expert questions such as these: From your perspective, what is the most important thing about this announcement? What were you hoping when you recommended or approved this? How will this benefit our customers? What effect do you think this will have on the company? What will change as a result? What would you like to say about its importance? Can you share a relevant anecdote? It’s best to get the executive to voice his answers, not write them. The quotes then come across with more authenticity.

Sound like a human, not a robot. Most executive quotes sound as though PR deliberately squeezed out any semblance of humanity, writes Lou Hoffman, CEO of the Hoffman Agency, in the Ishmael’s Corner blog. Send quotes through a sound test: Read them aloud, and ask yourself if they sound like something a person would actually say.

Eliminate buzzwords such as “synergy” and “paradigm shift.” Amy Lecza, senior content marketing lead at All Points Public Relations, warns: “All industries use buzzwords. As a result executives sometimes have a tendency to cling to a few and use them until all meaning has been wrung out. Fluff words mean nothing. They can destroy a quote.” Drop buzzwords and jargon that can hide the message, and instead find the essence of what you’re trying to relate.

Keep them short. Quotes that run on forever can cause readers to lose interest, forget they are still reading a quote and even forget who was speaking. Sentences should likewise be short, about 10 words each rather than 30. “If you have a lot to say in a quote,” Goldsberry says, “break it up or spread it around throughout the press release.”

Be creative. Strong verbs and distinctive language help make quotes memorable. As long as your spelling and punctuation are correct, don’t be afraid to be different, Goldsberry says. A quote within a quote, ellipses and other grammatical and writing devices are all fair game—whatever it takes to get your quote noticed.

Add value. Good quotes add value to the story. They include statements that a nonbiased media article cannot. That could be an opinion, an interpretation or a unique perspective. Read the news release draft without the quote, and ask yourself whether the release lost any significance or whether you should rewrite a passage to restore meaning, suggests Lauren Edwards, founder and principal of WriteCulture. If you answer no, the quote lacks value.

Avoid clichés. Shun words such as delighted, pleased, excited and proud to. They lack news value and add nothing, Edwards says.

Be memorable. Good sound bites are short, colorful and easily repeated. Similar to a sound bite, a kicker is placed at the end of the article. Also memorable, the kicker can bring the story full circle. To write a sound bite or kicker, Edwards advises to do one of the following:

  • Emphasize one or more of the five sentences.
  • Use a metaphor, simile or analogy.
  • Summarize the entire topic in 10 words or fewer.

Vibrant quotes can transform staid news releases and other PR content into memorable stories. They offer the best device to add flair to news releases and other PR content, yet most executive quotes fall flat. Quotes with an authentic voice or opinion, special insight or shock value will knock ’em dead.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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