Secrets for successful sound bites
Here’s what passes for a sound bite in a news release these days:
“The auto-tech sector as a whole will continue to grow over the next few years as more stakeholders seek out efficient, platform-based auto finance options, and DriverUp is uniquely positioned to lead this charge.”
Said nobody ever.
“Putting those little wiggly marks around words does not a quote make,” writes Steve Crescenzo, principal, Crescenzo Communications. “It may look like a quote. It may act like a quote. But it’s really just another sentence wearing a quote disguise.”
So how can you write a quote for a news release, blog post or article that sounds like a real person said it? Here’s how to write good press release quotes:
Why do we keep stealing quote techniques from the guys who wrote this:
“My partner Rick Sullivan and I are thrilled to announce the addition of MSDP to our portfolio,” said Tom Callahan, Managing Director at Lincolnshire. “Under the leadership of a talented management team, MSDP has developed into a world-class performance automotive business managing great brands and boasting key strengths in both ignition and electronic tuning technologies. MSDP provides the ideal partner for Holley, a Lincolnshire portfolio company that is the leading manufacturer and marketer of performance fuel and exhaust systems. Together, these two iconic franchises, Holley and MSDP, will serve future generations of brand conscious street performance enthusiasts, hot rodders and racers with innovative new products and category-leading lines of refreshed, rejuvenated and improved versions of existing products.”
Why don’t we start stealing quote techniques from the guy who wrote this:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Winston Churchill, who wrote those lines for his Harrow School address in 1941, was one of the highest paid British war correspondents of his day, won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 — and did a little thing we call defeating the Nazis with his words.
Why not steal quote ideas from him? Or steal from Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.
But stop stealing from other press release writers. That’s “creative incest,” writes Dan Kennedy, author of No B.S. marketing books:
“As with actual incest, the product of creative incest just keeps getting dumber and dumber and dumber with each generation.”
(By the way, there’s a quote to model!)
2. Pass the Tweet Test.
A good quote happens when someone says something fascinating. It might be funny, surprising or have a ring to it. You’ll recognize it when you hear it — and your target audience will recognize it when they read it.
So here’s the test: Can you imagine anyone ever sharing your press release quote on social media? Really? Besides the subject-matter expert? Besides his mother?
Would it fit in a tweet? No? Rewrite.
3. Pick up the phone — or visit the office.
Don’t “interview” by email. Don’t pick up quotes from the deck. Don’t conjure them out of thin air. Certainly don’t just count to the fourth paragraph in your release and put quote marks around that.
Find some way — any way — to talk to the person you’re quoting.
4. If it sounds like a quote, start over.
What should a personable quote sound like? Joseph Mitchell, celebrated writer for The New Yorker, explains in My Ears Are Bent:
“The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.”
That’s a quote, people. That’s a quote. Real people talking about real life. (And, yes, corporate life is real life!)
Sometimes, it seems that the problem is executives. “Many people seem less quotable the higher they ascend in organizational life,” writes Chris Smith, the brilliant copywriting guru at Entergy Corp.
Or maybe it’s the way we get executive quotes. “Maybe frontline workers seem to say more interesting things in print,” Smith writes, “because they don’t have anybody ghostwriting their comments.”
Mitchell thought the problem was the interview itself: “The talk when you interview someone for a newspaper is usually premeditated and usually artificial.”
Can you get people to talk human in interviews? If not, you may need to brush up on your interviewing skills.
5. Read it aloud.
When Don Murray arrived in the newsroom for his first day on the job as writing coach for the Boston Globe, he turned to his new boss and said: “I can tell you who your three best writers are.”
Then the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter proceeded to do just that.
“How did you know?” the editor asked.
“Their lips move when they write,” Murray said.
Reading your copy aloud — hearing your words instead of just staring at them — is one of the techniques that separates master writers from the might-have-beens.
Sound bites are supposed to be spoken, so make sure they sound conversational. Read them aloud.
And, it goes without saying, leave the competencies, integration, big-picture opportunities and strategic objectives on the subject matter expert’s desk.
How to write good press release quotes
Before you submit your PR piece to your media lists and press release distribution service, check your quotes.
Remember: The best press release quotes make a reporter want to call the subject matter expert for an interview. The worst press release quotes make the reporter hope he never gets stuck next to the subject matter expert at a dinner party.
Which kind of quote is yours?