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Omit (or Improve) Your Utility’s Press Material Quotes

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In my days as a journalist, I’ve read many terrible quotes in press releases — and when I worked in public relations, I tried (often unsuccessfully) to remove or improve terrible quotes.

Corporate press releases tend to be bad for many reasons. They’re usually too long, are filled with industry jargon people don’t understand, contain lots of extraneous information and, invariably, include plenty of self-serving or repetitive quotes that any self-respecting journalist is going to ignore.

Any good reporter that is going to write an article off of a press release is likely going to interview the important people mentioned in said release anyway and get their own, better quotes.

Why are quotes so often bad?

For one thing, too many people are quoted. Yes, I understand that people in executive suites have egos and want to see their thoughts included in a release. I also understand that you’d rather not get fired for insubordination, so if you’re required to include quotes from umpteen people, so be it. But try to keep the number of people quoted to a minimum.

Then there’s the content of the quotes themselves.

I see this a lot:

XYZ Light & Power announced today a new program that will result in all its utility lines being buried within the next two years, the goal being to increase overall system reliability.

“Within the next two years, we plan to bury all our utility lines to better increase overall reliability,” XYZ Light & Power CEO Barney Gumble said.

Uh, you’re basically saying the same thing. Quotes should elucidate the meaning found in nonquoted material, not repeat it. Here is a much more interesting quote:

“By burying our utility lines, we’ll be able to increase reliability because we’ll be insulated from storm damage, human error such as drivers crashing into our poles and other incidents, such as trees growing into our lines,” XYZ Light & Power CEO Barney Gumble said.

Another problem is quotes that are too long. Think of quotes as “sound bites” — the short clips that TV news commonly uses. Any quote that runs more than four lines on a Word document is too long. In all likelihood, much of the quote can be paraphrased.

And then there are the simply boring quotes. Often these sound canned (and usually are). Example:

“XYZ Light & Power is excited to be working with the city of Mayberry on this project,” CEO Barney Gumble said. “We’ll do our best to make sure this forward-thinking project benefits the citizens of Mayberry.”

This is the most common kind of quote seen — and there tends to be multiple variations of it because the COO, CFO, CMO, CTO and others will all say variations of it.

In this case (as in most cases), less is definitely more.

Andy Gotlieb's picture

Thank Andy for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 17, 2019 10:06 pm GMT

They’re usually too long, are filled with industry jargon people don’t understand, contain lots of extraneous information and, invariably, include plenty of self-serving or repetitive quotes that any self-respecting journalist is going to ignore.

I feel personally attacked by some of these :)

Thanks for the tips, Andy-- really important to keep these types of best practices in mind

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