Press release Frankenquotes

Why do companies insist on writing Franken-quotes in press releases? For a classic exmaple, 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 impactful. 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.

15 Responses to Press release Frankenquotes

  1. al December 21, 2007 at 5:57 pm #

    “impactful” is not a word found in most dictionaries

  2. Brian December 21, 2007 at 7:35 pm #

    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.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bad Language / Surprise and delight: ten tips for writers - June 8, 2006

    [...] Quote well, but briefly. In business writing, an honest, human quote can be very effective. PR people make this difficult. Has anyone seen a genuinely good quote (as opposed to a Frankenquote) in a press release? [...]

  2. Bad Language / Why interviews matter - June 13, 2006

    [...] This means actually talking to people. It means getting on the phone or meeting face to face. An email exchange or some frankenquote doesn’t work. As Robert Scoble has discovered (see: ‘Great journalists call‘), this is what good journalists do. [...]

  3. Bad Language / 62 ways to improve your press releases - August 7, 2007

    [...] that is used in a press release. Usually they are turgid, content-free and obviously made up. See this post for an [...]

  4. Bad Language / How to write great case studies - March 6, 2009

    [...] interest and attention. Write good headlines and strong ledes. Use good, powerful quotations (not frankenquotes). Avoid hype, clichés, jargon and corporate BS. Think very hard about what a potential customer [...]

  5. How to use quotations in your writing – 10 expert tips — Bad Language - November 16, 2009

    [...] for someone based on bits and pieces strung together in an epic hype-ridden cliché. This is a frankenquote. PR companies do this all the time in their press releases and every journalist knows that these [...]

  6. Frankenquoting in Practice | CyberFootprint - May 7, 2010

    [...] of my fellow PROs but I’m willing to take that chance.  When Matthew Stibbe talked about Frankenquoting, I thought he made it up just to be funny. Now I know [...]

  7. EA Frankenquotes - Bad Language - May 13, 2010

    [...] great games. Now they are just another big dumb corporation that puts out press releases with frankenquotes like this: “This is an important inflection point in our business because it allows us to [...]

  8. 10 top tips on using quotations | Articulate - October 31, 2011

    [...] someone based on bits and pieces strung together in an epic hype-ridden cliché. This is  a frankenquote. PR companies do this all the time in their press releases and every journalist knows that these [...]

  9. Pick of the Orchard 1.15.06 | Dallas Public Relations Idea Grove - January 31, 2012

    [...] Press release Franken-quotes (Bad Language) [...]

  10. Natural sounding quotes add credibility « Mich-communication - February 13, 2012

    [...] Press release Frankenquotes Spread the wordEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  11. Frankenquote Monsters - September 4, 2012

    [...] about every press release has a Frankenquote — a sentence or two attributed to the CEO or another company executive but written by someone in [...]

  12. Interviews: how to be a good interviewee - December 26, 2013

    […] Remember what the interviewer wants. Usually they want three things: 1) a better understanding of the topic, 2) something new and interesting to say to their readers and 3) quotable quotes that will punctuate the story. If you don’t give them good, human quotes, they’ll make up Frankenquotes. […]

  13. The Devil's Marketin - August 14, 2014

    […] Case study. A work of fiction punctuated by frankenquotes. […]

Leave a Reply