Quoting people in press releases

Hearing the opinions of a person in their words through a quotation in a press release, article or newsletter helps add a human dimension to a story.

It also helps break up a monotonous read.

Yet many press releases contain stilted, incomprehensible quotes, written in a style that’s nothing like the way someone speaks.

When there’s more than one organisation involved in a publicity campaign, deciding on quotes often gets political.

Man in suit looking angry

Who do you put first? Second? Third? Fourth? Fifth? Why’s his quote longer than mine? Please add to mine to make it equal. 

The communications process can drag on for weeks, sometimes months.

A well-run company trusts the communications team to do the job they know best. At the approvals stage, most executives will only suggest minor changes.

But in smaller organisations, or those with insecure environments, everyone wants to make their mark.

They demand changes. Very often, completely inconsequential ones.

If you’re in charge of the communications on a project involving four organisations, each of which has submitted half-page quotations from senior management, good luck retaining any professional pride.

Who do you quote in a press release?

No one would quote the boss’s secretary in external publicity no matter how much of a backbone to the business she is.

Businessman laughing on phone

Quotes for publicity should usually come from the head of the company that’s putting out the press release, or someone else with authority.

That could be the chief executive, operations director or the ‘head of’ a department.

No communications material warrants more than four quotes unless each person is saying something radically different.

This is highly unlikely. Publicity and press releases usually only peddle one line.

Limiting the number of quotations

I’ve been instructed to quote five people in press releases before. This is ridiculous and a waste of everyone’s time.

No journalist is going to be interested in so many people’s opinions with the same message.

The only reason you’d distribute such a release is because you’ve been instructed to and fear losing your job if you don’t comply.

It would be a decision based on politics alone and keeping senior people in other organisations happy.

The best way of quote-gathering

If you send your draft press release to each of the organisations involved and ask them to fill in the gaps with their quotations you will

  1. wait five weeks before being told they’ve forgotten, and then
  2. be sent flowery waffle that will hammer the last nail into the coffin containing your once thriving professional self-respect.

The best method is to reach the end of your skeleton press release and then look at which sections work best written as someone speaking.

Quotation marks icon

Put a couple of quotation marks around those sections and insert a ‘so-and-so said’. Easy!

NB: ‘Said’ is 1,000 times better than ‘commented’ or ‘explained’. It’s no nonsense and more conversational.

Edit the words you’ve sectioned off (if necessary) to make them sound less formal.

Then send the release to the other organisations for approval. Busy executives love this method. It involves far less effort for them.

Punctuation for press release quotes

The following example is an accurately-punctuated quotation:

‘Open a quotation with a quote mark and insert a comma or full-stop before the closing quote mark like this,’ said Let’s Be Clear founder Jess Watson. ‘Then continue the rest of the quote immediately after the attribution. If the quote is long, like this one and you need to roll onto another paragraph, finish off the last sentence of the first paragraph by adding a full-stop but not a closing quotation mark. Like this.

‘At the start of the new paragraph insert another open quote mark and continue with the quotation.

‘Don’t ask the logic here, just keep going until you reach the end.

‘Then add the relevant closing punctuation mark – in this example it will be a question mark – and insert the end quote mark immediately after.

‘Are you still here?’

NB: depending on font being used, opening and closing quote marks are often the same sign.

If you attribute the name of the person speaking before the quote begins, write it like this with a comma or colon after ‘said’.

Let’s Be Clear founder Jess Watson said: ‘There are accepted practices in journalism about how to set out quotes.

‘The method outlined in this post follows the standard NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) rule.

‘It is of course best to check your organisation’s particular house style.’

If this post has you bashing your head against your keyboard, or just fast asleep on it, you have my sympathy. It was painful writing it. Can’t imagine what it must be like reading it, so bravo for reaching this point.

Cartoon of woman asleep on desk


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