How to write a quote (that the press might actually use…)

For the last few years, I’ve collected quotes from businesses lucky enough to be nominated for the Cornwall Business Awards. I’d then package these up by local area, send them off to their local press… and most of them wouldn’t get used.

Why? Because they all said pretty much exactly the same thing

I don’t blame the journalists for a moment. Who on earth would want to actually read a story with five long, windy quotes making the same point over and over again?

The problem was, each company thought about its own response in isolation; not as one of  30 or more nominees. And everyone responded in more or less the same way.

In particular, each instinctively reached for the same tired words they were used to seeing other awards nominees use.

So, one year I decided to set the nominees some basic rules… and the results were much, much better. If you’re asked by the media to respond to something like an awards nomination – and you’d like your quote to be the one that jumps out from the list – I think they’re a pretty good start.

(Journalists: I’m sure you have plenty of suggestions / pet hates of your own. If you’d like to unburden yourself, there’s a comment box below…)

Rule 1: Don’t use the words “delighted”, “prestigious” or “recognition”.

It’s remarkable: the moment you take away the words you use without thinking, it instantly makes you more creative. More honest. More human. And that’s the point.

Quotes are the part of a story where we step outside of plain facts and the media’s house news style, and hear from you. A human being. With opinions and emotions and a way of speaking that’s all your own. That’s the whole reason quotes are so important and powerful. So react honestly, and use the words you’d actually use (within reason).

If in doubt, tell someone you know well how you feel about it. Use those words as your starting point.

Like Quentin Crisp said: style is being yourself, but on purpose…

Rule 2: No more than 30 words, please (and 20 is better).

Do you tweet? If you don’t, you probably should.

Because if you can’t at least summarise an idea in 140 characters, the chances are you’re waffling. If you’re giving your response to being nominated for an award, nobody wants to hear your nuanced and multi-layered discussion on the intrinsic paradox of the human condition. OK?

Being brief is good, because:

a) There’s only so much space in the story for a view. If yours is too long, or they have to spend time cutting it, they’ll probably use someone else’s.

b) Yaaaawn. Boring.

c) Forcing yourself to be concise will make you concentrate on what you really want to get across. Your writing will be punchier, stronger and more effective. Trust me.

Rule 3: Don’t say the same thing as everyone else.

Yes, it may well be true that you want to give the credit to your whole team. That you feel it recognises a lot of hard work. That all the other nominees are great and you’re happy to be among such exalted company. That it’s a real boost amid bleak economic conditions, or a tough time in your industry.

The problem is, all the other companies think the same thing too, and will say so.

So think different. Praise your town. Tell us how nervous you are, or that you’re not looking forward to frock shopping. Reveal that you gave all your staff champagne for breakfast because, win or lose on the night, you’re so very proud of them.

(But, for goodness’ sake, tell us ONE of those things. Not all of them…)

That’ll do for now, I think.

These guidelines aren’t foolproof, perfect or exhaustive, by any means, but they’re a start:  hopefully they should start you thinking in the right direction.

(If you’re still struggling, maybe talk to a good copywriter or PR company. It might only be a 15-30 minute job to listen to your reaction and write it up, giving you a better result with much less worry…)

Oh, and good luck with those Awards…

Quote writing can be a headache...

Writing quotes: headache-inducing? (Photo Rennett Stowe; sorry if it hurts your eyes)


7 thoughts on “How to write a quote (that the press might actually use…)

  1. It’s worth thinking about why you’re giving a quote in the first place. What do you want out of this

    – People to remember who you are and what you do?
    – Your staff to know how much you value them?
    – Publicity for the product or service that won the award?

    Otherwise, you’re just gushing…

  2. Love your style of writing David, honest, blunt and to the point whilst causing me to smirk in a bizarre way at my screen as my eyes digest the info!! Soon my dear, a most awesome quote from me will be dropping into your box 🙂

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