Freelance copywriting and quoting people in publicity

Quoting people in blogs, thought-leadership pieces, newsletters and press releases plays an important role in publicity copywriting.

It also helps break up a monotonous read.

But so much publicity material contains long-winded, incomprehensible quotes, written in a style that’s nothing like the way someone speaks.

When more than one organisation is involved in a campaign, deciding on quotes can often become political.

Comms process on quotes - man gets 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 copywriting process can drag on for weeks, sometimes months.

A well-run company trusts its marketing and press people to do the job they know best. At approvals stage, most executives will only suggest minor amendments.

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

They demand changes. Very often, inconsequential ones.

If you’re the freelance copywriter on a project involving several organisations, each of which has submitted half-page quotes from senior management, good luck retaining any professional pride!

Who do you quote in PR material?

No professional copywriter 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 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.

Which is unlikely given publicity usually only peddles one line.

The number of quotes in press releases

If you’re a freelance copywriter who’s been instructed to quote four or five people in the press release, please know that this is ridiculous and a waste of everyone’s time.

Sadly, it’s also quite common despite the fact no journalist is going to be interested in so many people’s opinions with the same message.

The only reason any freelance copywriter would produce such a release is to pay the rent!

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

As a PR exercise, it’s as useless as a chocolate teapot.

The best way to quote-gather

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

  1. You’ll wait five long weeks before being told they’ve forgotten, or
  2. You’ll 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 release, then look at which sections work best written as if someone is speaking them.

Quotation marks icon

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

Please note: ‘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 freelance London copywriter Jess Watson from Let’s Be Clear. ‘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?’

Please note: depending on font 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’.

Freelance London copywriter Jess Watson, from Let’s Be Clear, 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 client’s specific house style.’

If this post has you bashing your head against your keyboard, or just fast asleep on it, you have my sympathy. Sorry.

Cartoon of woman asleep on desk

Jess

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