A primary goal for any media program is getting quoted in an article by a journalist. As an agency, we are also often required to craft quotes ourselves on behalf of a spokesperson, and insert the quote into press releases, case studies, bylined articles, media pitches, etc. (with approval, of course).
Which begs the question, what makes for a good quote?
The short answer is, a quote should say something interesting, in a compelling and memorable way. But there’s a lot that goes into that, so let’s unpack it. Here are five tips to consider the next time you’re looking for a memorable quote.
Be Interesting. By far the biggest mistake people make when offering or crafting quotes is being boring. In our industry, that generally means using dry academic, technical, or marketing language.
Let’s take a look at the following example (inspired by this LiveAbout article by Tony Rogers, which I recommend checking out):
“The U.S. military will use force in an appropriate and decisive manner.”
“When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”
The first quote could come from any academic paper, and even if it were personalized, it adds little in the way of understanding or context. It’s a basic statement. The second, an actual quote from George W. Bush, gives a tremendous sense of personality, commitment, perspective, and more. It’s interesting andmemorable.
Add Information. A second mistake is to state (or restate) something that’s covered elsewhere in the article, release, etc. without adding to the reader’s larger understanding.
Here’s a quick test: remove the quotation marks. Does the statement read well in context without them? If so, it’s just body copy, not a quote. Does it restate information covered elsewhere? Remove the repetition.
A good quote should say something beyond what is covered in the body text. Ideally, it should say things that can’t be covered elsewhere in the copy because it’s personal insight, not marketing spin. In a press release, for example, a quote from the CEO might explain why the company is doing whatever it is it’s doing. Why is this thing important? Why is this company/solution the right or best option for customers?
Be Conversational. Yet another error: quotes that don’t sound at all like something a real human would ever say in a conversation. This is most common in quotes that are drafted in a vacuum, but can also happen when spokespeople adhere too closely to marketing messages. Consider the following example:
“We needed a solution for more continuous compliance to accelerate our overall audit workflow and evidence collection.”
“What I want is a compliance ‘easy button’ that just automates the whole process.”
Both of these statements came out of a customer interview we conducted for a case study. One is a marketing message – it’s useful information, but dry. The other sounds like something someone would say in a conversation; even better, it’s memorable, succinct, and more likely to resonate with the reader.
One of the best ways to obtain these quotes is by recording a conversation (with permission) and going back after the fact to pick out all the memorable statements. Then use those statements verbatim (more or less) – after all, they’re already memorable – and craft the copy so that it flows around these existing quotes . Another trick if you’re drafting a quote: read it out loud. If it doesn’t sound like something someone would say (or even worse, if even you have trouble saying it aloud), fix it.
Be Pithy. Long quotes are, almost by definition, bad quotes. It is hard for a reader to follow a long train of thought, or gain understanding from a loosely connected series of statements. Whether drafting a quote or verbally offering a statement, a general writing rule of thumb holds: the fewer words you can use, the better and tighter the thought.
When crafting a quote for attribution, re-read it multiple times and try to shorten it on each occasion. Don’t be afraid to restructure entire sentences just to lose a word or three. The writing will almost always improve as a result. Similarly, when preparing for an interview, think beforehand about how you can say things as concisely (and memorably) as possible.
Think Metaphorically. Finally, keep in mind that humans are imaginative, visual creatures. When comparing one unfamiliar thing to another, the more familiar thing always aids understanding. Similarly, if you can evoke an image in the reader’s mind, you’ll not only add information, you’ll also be well on your way to creating a lasting memory.
Best of all, this visual or metaphorical language is often something that won’t fit well in the body copy, and can only really be conveyed in a quote. The George W. Bush quote is a good example of just that sort of statement. While I’m willing to bet you can’t even remember the first example, you can probably immediately recall the image of hitting a camel in the butt. That’s a good quote.