5 ways to elicit compelling executive quotes

Encourage your leaders to enhance the narrative with visual, visceral and conversational commentary.

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In the nonstop battle for attention, reporters, marketers and PR pros cannot afford to waste words.

Unfortunately, executive quotes in press releases or news articles often sound as though they were written by a robot—or, worse, a committee.

An insipid quote is a lost opportunity. Here’s how to make quotes from executives an asset instead of bland filler:

Add to the story.

The executive quote is a chance to contribute meaningful information to the narrative—offering substance, details or color—not to repeat facts found elsewhere in a press release or article. If a release announces a new round of funding, the executive quote should not be about “how pleased we are with the investment.”

Instead, a more substantive comment might describe plans to use the cash infusion, tout milestones already hit, or articulate specific reasons why the company merited fresh funding.

Use visual, visceral language.

Encourage your execs to share spicy tidbits that readers are likely to remember (and journalists are likely to use).

In an article in which many industry figures are quoted, a visual quote that uses visceral language is also more likely to get prominent “pull-quote” placement.

  • A congressional hearing is a “political strip search.”
  • Pressure for startups to grow prematurely is like “driving a car that’s leaking gasoline.”
  • A recent merger was akin to a “joyful marriage of high school sweethearts.”

Using such evocative language also adds depth and color to an executive’s persona.

Be bold.

Strong language works for leaders who are keen to embrace a higher public profile—or for those who can weather the attention that could follow if the comment is controversial.

Quotes that convey bold predictions, unexpected opinions or blunt honesty will often attract attention.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff objected in public comments to Indiana’s law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay or transgender people. However, he didn’t just say, “We don’t agree with this legislation,” or “It doesn’t reflect our values.” He called the law “brutal,” “unfair” and “unjust,” while pledging to reduce the Salesforce presence in that state.

Benioff’s strong, unflinching words resulted in widespread coverage.

Banish robo-quotes.

Even if an executive isn’t trying to emulate Benioff, his or her comments don’t have to be boring.

Press release quotes are often stilted, jargon-stuffed garbage. Playing it safe with boilerplate pleasantries might make the internal approval process easier, but robo-quotes are useless for communication or PR purposes.

Encourage your execs to craft more authentic quotes that sound like they might feasibly have been uttered by a real human being. If you’re dealing with a Stiff Stephanie or Rigid Reginald, record a conversation with your exec and have them listen to the chat.

Hearing your own voice helps you write in your own voice.

Don’t go overboard.

In press releases, it’s not necessary to quote business leaders more than twice. One well-written quote is enough. Also: Four or five concise sentences are more effective than a 100-word rambling paragraph littered with conjunctions.

If you’re dealing with a merger or some other major event, you might be compelled to include quotes from multiple people. However, too many executive quotes can be tedious, unwieldy and indulgent. If remarks by multiple executives must be included, consider a quote sheet and a press release addendum.

Remember: The perfect executive quote adds value in a conversational manner. Quotes should enhance and enliven the story in a way that reinforces the organization’s voice and character. Quotes from leaders are valuable opportunities to communicate with stakeholders in a direct, personable manner, so make the most of every chance to connect.

A version of this post first appeared on Crenshaw Communications’ PR Fish Bowl blog.

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