Writing

  • Tips to Write Quotes that Come Alive by Ken O’Quinn

    In Writing on

    At our upcoming Jack Jackson Art of Writing workshop on Oct. 11 and 18, Ken O’Quinn will be sharing writing strategies and insights from his career as an AP journalist and coach to some of the nation’s leading brands and agencies.

     As a preview of Ken’s perspective on writing, following is a post from his blog, reprinted with permission:

    Tips to Write Quotes that Come Alive

    Public relations and communications professionals routinely create quotes for news releases, but that doesn’t mean the quotes need to be dull.

    Quotes are meant to deepen a reader’s understanding of an article, a release, or a story by providing facts, insight, a perspective, or emotion. They also bring writing alive, and our eyes are drawn to quotes when we read because they represent human voices speaking.

    In mainstream journalism, the quotes are authentic because they are spontaneously given during a live interview. But within a company, executives do not want to be interviewed by their communications people every time a news release is published, so communicators fabricate the quotes and submit them for approval. That doesn’t mean they need to be boring. Just as broadcasters waste airtime by asking mindless questions, many communicators don’t take full advantage of quotes by providing substantive information. The quotes usually are predictable, self-serving, and boring.

    Here are ways quotes can be useful:

    • To confirm facts.

    Here is an analyst on why people have been abandoning land-line phones since the start of the recession:

    “People had to trim expenses but also had to maintain some type of connection, so many ditched their landline and went only to wireless.”

    • To provide insight or expertise.

    Here is an executive talking about Toyota’s decision to move Lexus production from Japan to the U.S.:

    “Within 30 days, we put together our final proposal and went to the board. In Toyota terms, for us to do this in 30 days is lightning speed,” he said. “We had all the challenges figured out. The board had a few questions, not many, and the program was approved.”

    • To convey emotion.

    Here is a leader of the pilot’s union after airlines began rehiring pilots because of improved profitability:

    “We welcome our brother and sister pilots back with open arms,” said Capt. Jay Heppner, chairman of the leadership council in the airline pilot’s association. “We have worked toward this day for more than five years.”

    • To capture an attitude.

    Here is a military commander responding to critics after a bombing:

    “Leadership isn’t about being the most popular guy on the street. It’s about getting the job done and improving a bad environment.”

    • To help you develop good quotes, ask questions:
    • Why is this news significant?
    • What is unusual?
    • Why did we make this product?
    • Why would anyone buy it?
    • How will this affect our position in the market?

    Quotes should help readers make sense of the news.

    Don’t miss this workshop. Sign up today: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/jack-jackson-art-of-writing-workshop-tickets-49594884635

    Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available  here at Amazon.com.

    If you could benefit from more business writing resources like these, sign up for this free monthly writing tip: https://www.writingwithclarity.com/

     

  • Fast 5: Q&A with TN Communications Group President Tom Nutile

    In Media Relations, Thought Leaders, Writing on

    One of the most important skills that a PR professional needs to develop is the ability to draft a targeted media pitch that captures the attention of a reporter, producer, blogger, etc. within three seconds. There are so many ways that you can connect with the media today – whether it’s by email, press release, Twitter, Facebook or even the old fashion way—the phone.

    We recently sat down with TN Communications Group’s President Tom Nutile to learn more about his career as both an editor and media professional and some of his tips on how to pitch the media.

    Tom Nutile says media pitching isn't like it used to be.

    “PR people [should] take a much more active role in managing the conversation” because of social media. – Tom Nutile, TN Communications Group.

    Q: What’s it like working both sides of the fence—as editor and publicist?

    It’s a huge advantage. As a working journalist I received pitches all day long—and I got to see what worked, and what didn’t. Now in my PR business, I know how to craft a media pitch, a press release, a video, that’s likely to resonate with the media and gain coverage.

    Q: How has social media changed the way PR pros pitch the media?

    Social media has opened up more channels to reach journalists and target audiences and markets. It’s a much more complex environment to work in. The news cycle is 24/7, with updates on a breaking story sometimes coming every few seconds. The conversation—the stories—can build quickly and take on a life of their own. The feedback can be instantaneous, and because of it social media is making PR people take a much more active role in managing the conversation. But I ask, who better to own that than PR people?

    Q: Do the media still matter when PR people can publish what they want?

    Absolutely yes. There is still a valuable role for the media today. There’s a reason that coverage in the media—from professional journalists—is called “earned media.” You have to earn it—you can’t buy it or just write it yourself. Coverage in the media—third party endorsements, if you will—has immense value. Study after study show that people truly value and look for gatekeepers who can judge the news and package it in a way that’s relevant to them. As long as people want that independent editorial voice, you will have the media, and as long as you have the media, you will need PR people to manage media relationships and craft meaningful messages—and pitches.

    Q: Pitching the media is as old as PR. Is there anything truly new to say about it?

    Understandably storytelling is at the heart of what we do, and that hasn’t changed.

    There are always new ways to pitch, and journalists have changed. They want things faster, and they don’t want to have to work as hard to develop a story, so background info, whether it’s a graphic or data, is very important. They want short, tight, to-the-point pitches. And they want them in different, newer formats. Remember that journalists—and consumers—can reject your content in a flash—or they can take it viral just as quickly. Another fast-moving target is the truth. A falsehood or misconception can move quickly and derail your message before you know it. Pitching the media in this environment requires good storytelling with lightning quick reflexes, plus contingency plans for that fire you just didn’t anticipate.

    Q: Do we need more and better tools than we used to in pitching the media or reaching your ultimate audience, whether it is the general public or an industry?

    We need tools that work, that are up-to-date, and that resonate with the media we pitch and, ultimately, the audience we want to reach. That can mean a great OpEd piece for an online publication with high readership, it can be a tremendous Facebook post or tweet that goes viral. It can be a 90-second video, a case study or tight, bright website content. I spent half my career as a print journalist, and now the vast majority of my writing ends up online. There are ways to write effectively for each of these vehicles. What works for a tweet doesn’t necessarily work for an email pitch to a journalist, for example. I’ll share some of the secrets of how to write effectively for each these vehicles and more at “Crafting the Perfect Pitch,” the PRSA Boston writing seminar at ML Strategies on September 29. (Register here.)

    About Tom Nutile

    Tom is President of TN Communications Group, a boutique PR firm specializing writing, editing and media relations. A former journalist with the Boston Herald, St. Petersburg Times and Gannett, winner of three national Bulldog Awards for media relations, and a former VP of PR at Staples, Tom has more than 20 years of experience helping clients gain national and international exposure through print, broadcast and digital media placements. He can be reached at 508-397-2810 or tom@tncommgroup.com.

    About Fast 5

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is about as easy as … winning Powerball at $1.5 billion! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, author’s books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

    Do YOU have a candidate for a FAST 5 interview? Email: Joshua Milne at josh@joshuamilnepr.com and pitch your subject expert!

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization. 

  • 72Point

    Fast5: Q&A with 72Point.US’s Vice President of Strategy & Client Services Mindy Gibson

    In Media Relations, Social Media, Writing on

    Bill Gates was right. Content is king.

    It’s been 20 years since Bill Gates published his infamous “Content is King” essay on Microsoft’s website, accurately predicting “…content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.” Today, content marketing firms like 72Point are engaging audiences, inspiring earned media and creating points of entry to businesses everywhere.

    We recently caught up with 72Point’s Vice President of Strategy & Client Services Mindy Gibson and asked her about the process of creating content and feeding the media beast.

    Why should infographics be a part of my strategy?

    It’s actually not about whether infographics should exclusively or specifically be included in your strategy. It’s about the broader category of visual assets – and the “why” is digital media demand. Each visual type – infographic, video, animation or interactive -contributes to digital news outlets’ success metrics, such as dwell time. Some outlets require stories be accompanied by videos because they enable pre-roll ad insertion.

    Visual assets help sell the content story of the story too, as it tells the story from multiple angles and can determine which outlets you’re pitching, and what your budget can support. We advise all our clients that integrating visuals increases the likelihood their story will get picked up, and the absence of visuals decreases their chances.

    How can a PR poll be used to increase brand awareness?

    A PR survey is first and foremost about news generation, with earned media as its primary goal. A survey-supported news story is therefore no different in its role increasing brand awareness than any other type of earned media initiative. The better the concept behind the story, the more media earned. Surveys have the advantage of being conversation starters. The more talk-ability, the more “legs” the story will have with other media outlets and, so importantly, as part of the social conversation.

     

    Are PR surveys only for earned media news generation or do they have paid media applications?

    While PR surveys have been traditionally used for earned media coverage, the basic principles can certainly be applied to creating paid media content.  The results of a compelling survey with reference to brand but not banging readers over the head with brand help branded content and other paid advertising feel less “branded” which is a good thing. One thing we’ve learned with the growth of paid media is that consumers do not want to be “sold to”.  They want to be informed, entertained and engaged but not sold. This is particularly true for younger consumers. Research is informative, and if done well, the results can be entertaining and engaging. We see our clients reaching to us more often for content to support paid media initiatives, and can track social media shares resulting directly from the story and assets and provide that information in our post-project coverage books but we don’t dissect it nor do we track the social media initiatives our clients control using the same content.

    Is email still relevant in the age of social media?

    At the risk of giving my age away, I am not a millennial and so grew up in business before social media had business applications and long before it had any life application at all.  Without intended reference to any current political story, in a business setting, email is absolutely relevant. Email is how I communicate regularly with colleagues and clients of ALL ages and generations. It is still the most efficient, effective and private method of business communication – if anything is actually really private. I do not foresee myself IM’ing business communications. That said, the use of email for social communication is already irrelevant to younger adults and future business applications of email may not be far behind – whether I like it or not.

    Mindy Gibson is a Boston University grad, and a strategic and creative media executive with domestic, multicultural and global content and communications experience in charge of strategy and client relations at 72Point.US.

    About Fast5:

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in
    demand, and nailing them down for a conversation is about as easy as… winning Powerball at $1.5 billion! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, author’s books about to hit the stands, and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos.

    Do YOU have a candidate for a Fast5 Interview? Email Joshua Milne at josh@joshuamilnepr.com and pitch your subject expert!

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization. 

  • What “Argo” Taught Me About Writing Speeches

    In Writing on

    If you are a speechwriter, I recommend you see the movie “Argo”.

    “Argo” is a simple story written by Ben Affleck about Tony Mendez. Mendez is a CIA operative who rescues six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1981.

    In 1979, Iran’s Shah is given asylum in the U.S. after his cancer diagnosis. Known as an oppressor of the people, his constituents want him returned to stand trial for his crimes. Thus, the people’s only recourse is to invade the American embassy and hold Americans hostage.

    However, after an inventory is taken of the embassy’s personnel, Iran’s army realizes six are missing and hunt them down. Meanwhile, the escapees have sought refuge in the Canadian embassy where they remain for more than a year.

    Mendez enters Iran under the cover of Kevin Harkins, film producer. He gives the six cover identities as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for “Argo”, a science fiction movie.

    While under pressure to complete the mission, Harkins must take the crew to a local bazaar to establish credibility with the government. Yet, two of the six, Joe and Kathy Stafford, refuse to go.

    Here’s where the speechwriter’s lesson comes in. Joe tells Harkins, “I’m sorry, Mr. Harkins. We just don’t trust you.”

    Now Harkins can continue pleading, use force or ditch them. Unexpectedly, he does none. He says, “My name is Tony Mendez. I’m from New York. My father worked construction. My mother was a schoolteacher. I have a wife and a 10-year-old son. You play along with me today, I promise I’ll get you out.”

    This is an important moment for speechwriters. It highlights the key to captivating an audience by writing a genuine narrative in the speaker’s authentic voice. This act allows the audience to learn something about the speaker and themselves. This holds their attention, educates, entertains and creates action.

    Telling the speaker’s story and including personal anecdotes can shift a speech’s paradigm and unveil whom the speaker is as a mother, father, friend, colleague and community leader. It shows the speaker keeps a messy desk, holds a pen awkwardly, buys the wrong ingredients and even burns the chicken – it makes the speaker human. Without this story, a speech can run thin and be a bore.

    Bone up on your interviewing skills

    The key to story telling in speechwriting is savvy interviewing skills. My method is the same way you peel back an onion – one question at a time.

    1. Why are you passionate about this issue?
    2. When did you discover this and what happened?
    3. What was your interpretation of that moment?
    4. How did you feel about it?
    5. Why do you feel it stays with you?

    After the interview, you must decide where in the draft does the tale belong? I say the beginning or the end.

    Personally, I prefer at the outset and, if you’ve got the skills, use humor. Good lines capture the audience and help them relax. It says, “She (or he) will be entertaining and won’t waste my time regurgitating PowerPoint slides.”

    The other option is at the end.

    No matter the placement though, if the speechwriter does his job and the speakers do theirs, human stories can touch the heart, give hope to those who need it and make us act. Including anecdotes in speeches invite us in, move, educate, and entertain us.

    Post Author

    Generic-Team-Member-M Anthony Fireman is a new member of the PRSA Boston Chapter. He is a freelance speechwriter focusing on keynote addresses, graduation speeches, and association events. Fireman wrote for The MetroWest Daily News writing feature business stories as a daily correspondent. Email him at anthony.fireman@gmail.com or call (857)-891-5844.

  • Taking a Press Release Quote to the Next Level

    In Writing on

    I cringe 90 percent of the time whenever I read the direct quotes in a press release. They’re usually so obviously canned, and dull, dull, dull.

    The quote usually starts, “We’re delighted to….” Tell us something we didn’t know. The quote then goes downhill from there, meandering into a long paragraph of pallid palaver no human would speak. Like the recipient of an Academy Award, the speaker goes on to thank everyone from his mom on down, anyone who could have helped in making this “great success” possible.

    It’s too bad most quotes are so silly. A good quote or two can advance your cause.

    Think like a journalist

    A good release should read like a news story and avoid commercialism in the main text – rules that most releases violate, putting off readers who want information, not a baloney sandwich.

    Quotes – along with the boilerplate at the end – are the only places where you can sneak in your marketing message. Since it’s a named person who’s speaking in the quote, not the impersonal third-person voice of the release, it’s OK to put in some marketing spin in the quote. (But for heavens sake, don’t overdo it.)

    How can you get a good quote?

    Start out by briefly interviewing the people involved – the key executive or expert at your organization or client, or, if another organization is an important part of the story, someone there. Real people usually say much more interesting things than anything you can make up.

    If it’s not feasible to interview the principals, use a little creativity. Imagine what a living breathing person might have to say about this exciting, interesting piece of news. Tell readers something they can’t get in the rest of the release.

    Keep ‘em brief and pithy. One or two sentences per quote – three tops – is plenty.

    If you feel that coming up with a good quote is impossible, just skip it. It’s far better to have no quotes in a release than inflating it with trite gas.

    Post Author

    PlaceholderHenry Stimpson, APR, is founder of the public relations and marketing communications firm Stimpson Communications in Wayland. He can be reached at henry@stimpsoncommunications.com.

  • How to Follow Up on Press Releases and Story Ideas

    In Writing on

    So you’ve sent out your press release or story idea to a carefully tended list of news media mavens who should be interested in your news or idea.

    What do you do next? Nothing and hope for the best? Call every one of them?

    What works? Follow up selectively by email. If your list is large, choose the most important ones for follow-up. You can also rotate different media on your list for follow-up, so you’re not always following up with the same journalists. Always follow up with anyone who’s indispensable.

    Here’s an example of a follow-up email that’s worked well for me.

    “Hi Joe (or Dear Joe… depending on how well you know him or her):

    Just checking to see if you had chance to take a look at the story idea on five surprises in retirement I sent two days ago. Glad to resend if you missed it.”

    Pretty often, I get a reply along the lines of: I didn’t see it – could you send it again? It makes you wonder about how efficiently folks are handling their email. But heck, it works. It’s unobtrusive and doesn’t put the journalist on the spot.

    There are a few folks I always call instead. Either email doesn’t penetrate their consciousness and/or their very helpful corporate system sends 99.9 percent of everything to spam.

    Post Author

    Blog-author_stimpsonHenry Stimpson, APR, is founder of public relations and marketingcommunications firm Stimpson Communications in Wayland. He can be reached at henry@stimpsoncommunications.com.