Press release Frankenquotes

Why do companies insist on writing Franken-quotes in press releases? For a classic example, see this from our old friends Nortel:

“Nortel has established a legacy in innovation and will continue to push the envelope in delivering faster and more efficient wireless capabilities with industry leaders like QUALCOMM,” said Jean-Luc Jezouin, vice-president, GSM/UMTS product line management, Nortel. “Broadband technologies like HSDPA are designed to help operators squeeze the most out of their existing Nortel UMTS infrastructure investments while enhancing the end user experience.”

At lease he didn’t say ‘solution,’ but this quote has all the hallmarks of a PR-written “quote” made up of spare body parts sewn together:

  1. Hype words like “legacy,” “push the envelope,” “enhancing”
  2. Using the quote as a whole paragraph. In other words taking the information you want to get across and putting it into someone’s mouth rather than just writing.
  3. Thinking that it’s okay to write hype if you put it in quote marks
  4. It’s probably been reviewed, edited and ‘tidied up’ by three or four different people. “We need to say something nice about Nortel,” “We need to talk about track record” etc.
  5. Lots of acronyms add to the sense of indigestion in this particular quote.

I’ve got nothing against marketing. By all means, tell people what is new, different, good about your product or service but using cheap hype words makes what you’re saying less credible and less impressive. On the other hand, if we got a flavour of the speaker’s personality or back story it could be really powerful. For the sake of example: ‘I’m really proud to have achieved this result. It’s a project I’ve been working on for twenty years and it marks the high point of my career.”

No journalist, for whom this press release is intended by definition, is going to use any of this quotation in any piece they write. Their editors would execute them in cold blood for being a sucker.

If you’re going to use quotations in a press release, actually interview the speaker. Capture the way they talk. Find the thing that they say which can’t be said in normal prose. Quote briefly (e.g. ‘White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Iran was risking a “serious escalation” in the international dispute.’). Don’t be afraid of reported speech rather than using quote marks. Look at how journalists use quotes. The book “Writing to Deadline” is good on this.

Nortel’s a great company. They are far from unique in producing poor press releases. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that does a good job of a) telling a story and b) capturing the people and ideas that underlie it. It’s like journalists all speak Martian and PR companies all speak Venusian.

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17 Responses to Press release Frankenquotes

  1. al says:

    “impactful” is not a word found in most dictionaries

  2. Brian says:

    I’ve seen some great press releases.

    My favourite was for Crucial Brew, the atomic strength version of Red-Stripe. It just said

    2 spliffs, three cans of Crucial Brew and it’s strictly Toytown”

    That was it. I must have seen it in 1990 and I can remember it word for word.

    • Amy says:

      Yep, quotes like those are the ones that broadcast, “We don’t have anything new to say, so we’ll just rework our collection of vision statements.”
      (btw, might want to correct “exmaple” in the first paragraph and find a new word to replace “impactful”)

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