Executive quotes are a main component of news releases and other types of public relations materials. They’re usually quite horrible. They’re typically verbose, unhelpful and downright boring. Executive quotes in PR releases seldom 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 …”
Other phrases that quickly prompt eyes to glaze over include: “pleased to,” “proud to,” “thrilled to,” and “delighted to.” To find how often PR pros include such phrases to press releases, Trust Insights sampled 30,996 unique press releases year-to-date (out of 224,000 total) available on Google’s nonprofit GDELT Project.
Found in 10.3% of sampled releases, “pleased to” took the crown for the most used, followed by “excited to” in 9.7% of releases, “proud to” in 7.5% of releases, and “thrilled to” in 4.1%. “Honored to, “delighted to”, and “happy to” round out the rest. Collectively, these terms occur in 38.1% of all sampled releases. Frequencies vary somewhat over time. For instance, PR pros are more excited than pleased in January, April and June. Research found no difference in click-through rates between the different phrases. All were equally ineffective.
Except in a PR crisis, the company wouldn’t be issuing a press release if it wasn’t “pleased” or “excited” or “proud.” There’s no reason to actually state it. An announcement that’s real news doesn’t need it.
Good Quotes Add Pizzazz
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.”
These recommendations can help PR and corporate communications pros compose quotes that editors include in articles and that people read and remember.
Sound like a human, not a robot. Most executive quotes sound like 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 and ask yourself if they sound like something a person would actually say.
Eliminate buzzwords like “synergy” and “paradigm shift.” “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,” warns Amy Lecza, senior content marketing lead at All Points Public Relations. Drop buzzwords and jargon that can hide the message and instead find the real meaning of what you’re trying to relate.
Ask the right questions. Before writing a quote, ask the executive or subject matter expert questions like: 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 add value for our customers? What effect do you think this will have on the company? What will change as a result of this announcement? What would you like to say about the importance of this announcement? Can you share a personal anecdote about this announcement? It’s best to get the executive to voice his answers, not write them. The quotes then come across with more authenticity.
Question the right people. The CEO might not provide the most exciting quote, but lower-level personnel, like engineers and product designers, may truly feel excited about new products. “Get the unvarnished contributions from the project manager, the engineer, the designer, the people who legitimately are proud of their work, and let them speak to it in their own language,” urges Christopher Penn, co-founder and chief data scientist at Trust Insights. “You’ll find the content is far more engaging and authentic.”
Query Customers. Customers who tested the product can provide informed insights and worthwhile quotes on their problems, decisions and actions (PDAs) related to a new product or service.
Abandon templates. Press releases often follow templates that might even include phrases like “we’re pleased to.” That’s probably because junior staffers write press releases at many public relations departments and agencies, Penn says. Drop boilerplate templates that lead to boring language in favor of creativity.
Be creative. Strong verbs and unusual language help make quotes more 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.
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 generally be short, about 10 words each rather than 30. “If you have a lot to say in a quote, break it up or spread it around throughout the press release,” Goldsberry suggests.
Put a quota on quotes. Writers tend to overquote, which buries good quotes and leads to uninteresting text. Instead, paraphrase and summarize more. Limit quotes to 12% of total word count and no more than one quote every three paragraphs, advises Ann Wylie at Wylie Communications.
Add value. Good quotes add value to the story. Attention-grabbing and memorable statements include perspective, interpretation or opinion that a nonbiased media article usually wouldn’t include. Speakers can create interest by explaining why they were surprised by new findings or how they see the new product or policy affecting the target audience. Read the news release draft without the quote and ask yourself if the release lost any significance or if you need to rewrite a passage to restore meaning, suggests Lauren Edwards, founder and principal of WriteCulture. If you answer no, the quote lacks value.
Avoid clichés. Spurn words such as delighted, pleased, excited, and proud to. They lack news value and add nothing, Edwards adds.
Be memorable. Good sound bites are short, colorful and easily repeated. A kicker is similar to a sound bite and is placed at the end of an article. Often, it brings the story full circle. To write a memorable sound bite or kicker, Edwards advises:
- Emphasize one or more of the five sentences,
- Use a metaphor, simile or analogy, or
- Summarize the entire topic in 10 words or less.
Bottom Line: 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 are what knocks ’em dead.
This article was first published on April 9, 2018, and updated on Sept. 11, 2019.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.