They snooze, you lose
What’s the least important element in a release — less important even than the dateline or the boilerplate?
Quotes, say one in four reporters surveyed in a study by Greentarget. According to Greentarget’s research:
- 13% of journalists never use quotes from releases.
- 31% rarely use quotes from releases.
- 28% use quotes from releases only when they’re on deadline and can’t get an interview.
- 28% use quotes from releases regularly.
What’s their beef?
- 50% complain that the language doesn’t sound natural.
- 34% say the quotes aren’t substantive enough.
- Only 9% have no complaints about the quotes.
“Please don’t make me wade through a bunch of boilerplate, taglines and patting-ourselves-on-the-back quotes to find out if the news release is relevant,” begs one journalist surveyed by Greentarget.
Another writes: “I dislike press releases that have ‘spin.’ I just want the facts. Not a sales pitch, not canned quotes about how fantastic the person/company/event is.”
‘Don’t sound natural’
These aren’t unreasonable complaints, considering the wah wah that passes for quotes in releases these days.
Here are three quotes from releases posted on PRNewswire recently. (I could show only one in my PR Tactics column, because these suckers weigh in at more than 100 words each — 20% of my word count. Think about that for a minute.)
Wah wah, indeed.
Transform the wah wah.
How do you get the wah wah out of your release quotes? Make quotes:
1. Short. While PR quotes measure in the triple digits, journalists use much shorter quotes. In fact, the average length of a quote in a recent issue of The New York Times, not including attribution, was between 19 and 20 words, according to a 2015 Wylie Communications analysis. The most common length: seven words.
So “peel the quote back to one great sentence,” counsels Jacqui Banaszynski, a chaired editing professor at the University of Missouri.
2. Rare. Don’t use quotes to convey basic information:
3. Personable. Clearly, no human ever uttered the words, “MSDP provides the ideal partner for Holley, a Lincolnshire portfolio company that is the leading manufacturer and marketer of performance fuel and exhaust systems.” Just as no human has ever sought “customizable, comprehensive literacy solutions.”
Write quotes that sound human, not like a computer spit them out. Here’s one to model, from a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the New York Daily News about the declining health of 9/11 rescue workers:
4. Creative. Quotes should sound like more than just the most basic parts of human speech. Make your executive seem eloquent — even interesting. Here’s a New York Times quote by former New York mayor Ed Koch on political consultant David Garth:
Now, that’s a quote that reporters won’t shoot down.