08 Nov Capturing your client’s voice in a quote
Quotes are soundbites. They are the written equivalent of the snappy, insightful clips that make the news after a presidential debate, red carpet event, or championship game. Unlike a lede or body paragraph, they have a uniquely human feel. When you read a good quote, you can sense the cadence of natural speech and hear the subject’s voice in your head.
Quotes are an easy, effective way to win hearts and minds—but also to lose them. At best, haphazardly assembled quotes fall flat and fail to resonate with the public. At worst, they offend or demean, have their meaning misconstrued, and provide fodder for negative press about your clients.
When it comes to placing quotes, the stakes are high. That’s why public relations professionals spend so much time writing and revising quotes—they’re too important not to get right.
Here are some things we consider when drafting statements or quotes for clients.
Prepare to be quoted out of context
When writing for media, make sure that your client would be fine with any single sentence (or sentence fragment) being quoted without the rest of the statement included in the story. This is the most basic mistake that people make when issuing quotes. Media often doesn’t care if selectively quoting you changes the meaning of a statement. Construct your quotes in such a way that, should this happen, their meaning will not be drastically changed.
Consider the context
When drafting a quote, it is important to think about the environment in which your quote will be situated. You should think about what, if anything, other organizations and individuals are saying on the subject. Are they praising it, condemning it, or urging someone to act on it? Assessing this landscape can help you tailor your quote to the needs of the moment.
You should also think about how the quote could be misconstrued. Is the wording careful? Did you inadvertently use a term that could be considered insensitive? Is the tone inappropriate for the situation? All of these nuances can quickly turn a quote into a liability for your client.
Think too about how you can best cater to reporters looking for quotes for their stories. Imagine if you were a reporter writing the story. What is their agenda? What would they want a source to say to make their piece interesting? Then, consider how you can write a quote for your client that fulfills that need.
The more time and energy you spend thinking about these variables, the more likely you will be able to craft the right message for your client.
When drafting a quote, it is important to leverage your client’s unique expertise. Think about how their position informs their point of view and offers them a different perspective that could be of interest to the media. Consider whether their background makes them more quotable than others.
The most important rule when writing quotes? Be concise and direct. Boil down as much as possible to the most salient point. Do away with the flowery language and technical jargon. Get to the point in a clear, concise, compelling way that easily relays your client’s message to their target audiences.
Luckily, there’s a general formula for how you can go about this. When including a quote in a press release, your first sentence should be short, punchy, and capture your most important point. The second sentence can give more context.
Here’s a sample:
“We are heartbroken by the wildfires that have devastated communities across California,” said Tech Company X CEO John Doe. “Our team is deeply committed to uplifting Northern Californians as they navigate this tragedy. Education is central to our mission, and we are proud to donate more than 5,000 computers to students from families who have been displaced. We pledge our ongoing support during the recovery effort.”
The first sentence concisely captures the client’s central message. The second frames it and provides the context readers need to understand it. That’s a winning formula.
In some cases, you can also use metaphors, statistics, and colorful or visual language: They help to grab a reader’s attention and make it more likely a reporter will quote it.
Avoid clichés and statements of the obvious: This is the specialty of most PR firms. Even if you are in a position where the client is saying what is to be expected (which is often the case), work to find a way to say it differently than others.