Make your sound bite sound like a real person is talking
A frustrated PR pro in one of my workshops said:
“Most quotes in press releases sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: ‘Wah wah wah wah.’”
Indeed. Here’s a quote from a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the declining health of 9/11 rescue workers:
“I’m begging for someone to help me,” Valenti said. “I do not want to die.”
And here are quotes from the late, great UK Press press release quote generator:
“Answering the needs of e-tailers, our cutting-edge software product recognises the importance of clicks and mortar operations.”
“A turnkey solution, our best of breed product tests the performance of enhanced customer care.”
“Representing a radical step-change, our new product set tests the performance of enhanced customer care.”
Sadly, these quotes are so real sounding they could have been plucked randomly from any of the press releases I’ve reviewed this morning.
No wonder journalists complain about news release quotes. In a recent Greentarget survey of reporters:
- 50% kvetched that the language doesn’t sound natural in press release quotes.
- 34% groaned that PR quotes aren’t substantive enough.
- 9% had no complaints.
“Wah wah wah wah,” indeed.
Write quotes that sound human.
So how do get the Wah wah out? How do you write quotes for blog posts, news stories, press releases and other messages that sound like a human said them, not like a computer spit them out?
Before you put that fourth paragraph between quotation marks, take these tips:
1. Make it personal.
When two-thirds of Californians failed every question on a fast food nutrition quiz, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy distributed a release including this sound bite. The subject matter expert makes the story personal by talking about his own experience with the quiz:
“I have a doctorate in public health, and I failed this quiz,” says Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, who commissioned the poll. “And common sense does not help either. Who would think that a large chocolate shake at McDonald’s has more calories than two Big Macs?”
2. Take me there.
In a Silver Anvil Award-winning release, spokespeople for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy demonstrate how hard it is to intuit the number of calories in a fast food item. The quote pulls me into the room and the demonstration:
“‘You choose,’ Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier prompted the crowded room as he displayed a plate with two Big Macs, one with four hamburgers and a tall chocolate milkshake. ‘Which has the most calories?’ Except for two insiders who admitted they had seen the study before, not one of the guests in the room chose the milkshake with its whopping 1,160 calories.”
3. Show some emotion.
This quote from a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign by the Illinois Coalition for Competitive Telecommunications does just that. As a result, it makes a yawn of a topic — telecom deregulation — interesting:
“This bill is an outrage,” said Gary Mack, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Competitive Telecommunications (ICCT). “Businesses and consumers in Illinois have been suffering through the worst service problems in history because of (XYZ Corp.), and now the company is asking us to trust them to provide good service at a good price without any oversight? Do they think we’re nuts?”
4. Help us hear him.
This quote — from a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign for Xerox Corporation’s office makeover contest — is attributed to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s” Thom Filicia. Because we’ve seen him on TV, we can literally hear him say:
“Before, their office was just tragic! But now it’s really hip, sophisticated and professional, and it will help inspire them to grow and do more great work,” said Filicia.
Bottom line: At the very least, your quotes should convey humanity, passion and a point of view. How do your quotes stand up against these winners?