James Crisp. Freelance journalist in Brussels.

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You can quote me on this

Giving a journalist a quote is a communications opportunity but instead of seizing this chance, too many organisations serve up dull, turgid waffle.

This blog focuses on written quotes sent to the press but the same broad ideas apply to interviews or phone calls. They are simply harder to implement in the heat of the moment.

A reporter can shorten quotes but not change them. So, if a quote is chosen, it will be the words of the speaker. That can offer some influence over the story’s content and tone, as well as publicity.

Why do journalists want quotes?

Quotes are a device that help journalists tell a story. The traditional structure of a news story is that the first two paragraphs tells you what has happened. The third is a quote, which tells you what someone thinks or feels about what has happened.

Quotes are evidence that the assertions in the story aren’t just made up, that they are being made by someone.

They bring credibility but they can also bring colour. Colour can be joy, sadness, humour, anything that suggests feeling, drama or personality.

The more colourful the quote, the more chance it has of being used, but a balance needs to be struck.

Too much hyperbole will make journalists rightly suspicious, especially if previous quotes claimed a coming apocalypse which never arrived.

On the other hand, if it stands up, an exceptional quote can become the story.

A quote needs to be short and memorable. At absolute maximum, it should be two sentences. Cut the crap and get to the point as clearly and concisely as possible.

There is no need to explain everything you want to say in a press release in your quote. Focus on the message and story you want to get across – and deliver it in simple, engaging and everyday language.

>>Read: What’s the story?

Bin the clichés

When the European Commission proposes a new bill, journalists in Brussels are swamped with identikit releases, packed with cliché and convention.

All of them, for example, “welcome” the legislation, even if they hate it.  A lot of them, I suspect, are sent with no expectation of coverage but merely as a box-ticking exercise or a sop to overbearing bosses.

Here’s a fictional example;

Secretary General Xavier Blag said, “The European Association of Mollusc Farmers welcome the European Commission’s Third Revision of the Mussels Directive, which is a positive step in the right direction and shows the Commission has listened to our concerns and those of other stakeholders.

“We now call on member states to implement the legislation without gold-plating to ensure a level playing field.”

Better would be something like this:

Secretary General Xavier Blag said, “The directive is a good start but if member states insist on enforcing these rules differently across Europe, it will hurt rather than help the mussels business.”

This stays true to what the first example is trying to say but delivers the message in a way that is clear, concise and conversational. It is much easier for a journalist to take this quote and weave it into the story in a way that supports and improves the narrative.

It also makes Blag come across as less of a conceited, pompous ass.

Tips

  1. Say something interesting and new.
  2. Make it short, and punchy.
  3. Make it colourful but accurate. The Mussels Directive may “harm” the industry but, in reality, it is unlikely to “destroy it”.
  4. Use it for your message, not to explain what everyone knows has happened.
  5. Read it back to see if it is something a real person would actually say.
  6. Just write “He said” rather than “commented”, “stated”, “stressed” or “underlined”.
  7. Just quote one person, rather than three or four. Don’t confuse things, regardless of office politics.

>>Read: What journalists really think blogs

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