Press release Frankenquotes (and how to avoid them)

Frankenstein bobblehead character

Why do companies insist on using press release Frankenquotes? 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.”

How to write a better press release

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

  1. Hype words like legacy, push the envelope or 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 and not 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 give me indigestion.

I’ve got nothing against marketing. By all means, tell people what is new, different or good about your product or service. But using hype words don’t work. They make 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 self-respecting journalist 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.

Interviews make good press releases

If you’re going to use quotations in a press release, actually interview the speaker. Capture the way they talk. Choose quotes that capture personality. Quote briefly. For example, ‘White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Iran was risking a “serious escalation” in the international dispute.’ Don’t be afraid of reported speech instead of quotations. 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  telling a story and reflecting the people and ideas behind it. It’s like journalists all speak Martian and PR companies all speak Venusian.

This post first appeared on January 12, 2006 but I updated it ten years later. Nortel went into liquidation and mobile broadband is much faster now but press releases haven’t improved at all.

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20 Responses to Press release Frankenquotes (and how to avoid them)

  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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