Thursday, October 8, 2009

Do reporters actually read quotes in press releases?

The second draft of the press release was placed on my desk, featuring a brand new spanking quote from my client's CEO. Like Pavlov's dog, I immediately crossed out the first sentence which began "We are pleased," only to notice that the rest of the quote had actual substance. Real facts and explanation on a deal.

Then that paranoid thought came bubbling out: do reporters really read quotes in press releases anyway? What if I turned this quote into a regular certified paragraph of information? Would it receive more attention?

I fantasized about inserting a quote about concocting a deadly bomb plot in the middle of my next corporate announcement to see if anybody would notice.

Then I snapped out of it. Before I could do anything drastic, I decided to inquire real reporters and ask them if they read the quotes in press releases and if so, did they find them useful?

What resulted was a still sad commentary on the state of press release quality. At the beginning of this year, I warned everybody about the three words that had to be banned in 2009: "excited," "thrilled" and "honored" because of their absolute emptiness. You responded with more words that had to be eradicated: "pleased," "announced," "held" and "very." All very noble, all very instructive.

You studied David Meerman Scott's annual compilation of press release gobbledygook words that have been repeated into meaninglessness, right?

Unfortunately, we're all still a tiny minority of righteous standard bearers.

Nearly all the reporters I spoke with read quotes in press releases. What they think of and do with them is another matter altogether.

"Sure, I read them," said one trade reporter. "I usually do not use them as they offer little information and are often spin/hype/cheerleading rather than information/facts/details that are useful for readers to have."

"I can't remember one quote I've found helpful,"
replied a New York Times editor.

"I assume p.r. people write them though and then get the person being quoted to make adjustments or sign off. So it's not like I think I'm getting a window into anyone's spontaneous thinking or a slice of their actual voice," said another trade reporter.

"Mostly they are awful, but sometimes I do [use them]," an interactive reporter told me. I asked why they were awful, and they replied: "I'm excited about this partnership. It's going to be great." He added: "'Solutions' -- that is the worst word ever."

"Quotes in press releases are almost always useless and it's plain that a) the person to whom they are attributed didn't write them or b) the person did write them, but wrote them in their 'press release' voice," moaned a wire service correspondent.

"99% of them are useless," echoed the business writer.

But what about that 1%?

"No surprise, but negative quotes work," they advised. "Like how bad the economy is. Essentially, anything you might think is controversial works. Or how difficult or challenging something is." He added that companies which are getting hammered on earnings usually put those kinds of quotes in, "and if they're not there, they're lying!"

After hearing all these complaints, you would think perhaps it's a good idea to stop inserting executive quotes in press releases and letting the genuine cold hard facts and information of the announcement do the talking.

As a matter of fact, I double dare all of you to issue a press release for the next 30 days without an executive quote -- perhaps we'll all be able to gain the respect of reporters while quashing a little ego in the process.

1 comment:

Janet L. said...

How many reporter' eyes glaze over at a new hire press release?

The key is to have the quotes say something intelligible; use a catchy-phrase or analogy to make them memorable.

They may not get included in the news story, but they convey the strategy of the company and the thought process of the executive.

All the new hire press releases that quote the senior executive and the new executive can be beefed up as follows: The first quote shows where the company is going with the new hire; the second highlights the specific areas that the new executive can comment on in the future.

Think of a new hire press release as a calling card and media profile, rather than the two-sentence blurb in the weekly trade magazine.

Janet L. Falk