Working Words. Crafting a quote that makes the cut

From pitches to press releases, potential features to press trips, journalists tend to get inundated with ideas, suggestions, tips and – as importantly – emails.

At milestone moments such as the Budget, the release of new government data, or updates to legislation the fast-flowing Niagara that is a journalist’s inbox tends to burst its banks thanks to a wave of comments from interested parties, experts and observers.

Against such stern competition, how do you ensure that your comments stand out and have the best possible chance of appearing in print?

Be interesting: No matter what you are commenting on, be it the news that the King has bought a new hat or that the Government is introducing a highly controversial bill, make sure that what you are saying actually stands out. The best quotes add real value. A journalist will likely already know the name of the King’s new hatter or the key contents of the bill, so ensure your analysis shows unique insight and is opinionated if not necessarily contentious.

Be timely: As well as opining, it is important not to be supine when a newsbreak occurs. In other words: make sure your reactive comments really are reactive. By 2pm on the day of a major news story, a journalist is likely to have been bombarded with comments or may well have filed their copy. Beat the rush; get in early.

Be brief: why write ten paragraphs when you can make the same point with greater economy in two? Short, punchy sound bites will help catch the eye of a time-poor journalist sifting through a full inbox.

At the same time, remember to make sure each sentence could be quoted as a standalone comment in itself. This greatly increases the chances of your comments being included as part of a broader article on the topic and reduces the chances of misquotation.

Be aware of your audience: Before writing any comments, think about who your comments are actually going to be read by. The readers of a key trade title are likely to have a greater understanding of the technical aspects of a debate than someone reading their morning paper around the breakfast table.

Remember: keep it simple and conversational if need be.

Updated April 2023

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