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Newsjacking: how to produce a quote to ride a breaking news story

Do you ever try to jump on breaking news stories in an attempt to get quoted? Many people find that success seems random – and lots of time and effort can go into developing and issuing quotes that never get news. There are ways of making it less random: here are four ways to maximise the chance of success.

First, keep it snappy. Organisations often get bogged down in subordinate clauses or creating six-sentence quotes, trying to address every nuance and detail possible. But even the most upmarket newspapers are unlikely to quote more than a couple of sentences. If your quote is more than a two sentences long, then you ought to split them into paragraphs that are essentially rival options for reporters to quote.

Given this, it’s vital to write sentences (or at worst pairs of sentences) that are standalone – that don’t require the journalist to include lots of other text for them to be understood. PR practitioners who are only internally focussed can make the mistake of thinking that success is just about getting a quote signed off internally, but actual success is about getting something approved internally that is also interesting enough for journalists to use.

Secondly, avoid trying to force irrelevant product mentions or branding where they oughtn’t to be. A news story in The Times is not going to include a quote like: “At XYZ Pensions, Britain’s newest provider of bespoke pension solutions, we believe that today’s government announcement…” A quote will appear because someone from your company is an authority of the subject – the head of investments at a pensions company, for example, talking about outlook for the stock market. The company will get a mention by the reporter (“Joe Blake of XYX Pensions said…”) but it generally reduces your likelihood of success if you try to plug your company in the quote.

Thirdly, never use the phrase “we welcome” in a quote. It’s boring – unless you are welcoming something that most people would suspect you to be against. News is fundamentally about conflict, after all.

Finally, speed is everything. If it takes five hours to get sign-off, or if you try to respond to things that have already hit morning newspapers, the approach won’t normally be successful. You need to be getting quotes to journalists before they’ve started writing their stories. That means developing relationships with stakeholders who give you the head’s up about their news in advance, by using tools like Google News and Signal, or by subscribing to the Press Association Mediapoint Wire.

Alex Singleton is author of The PR Masterclass, out now from Wiley.