Great media quotes are often carefully crafted and designed to catch the headlines – but not always.
The MD of The Media Coach, Lindsay Williams, likes to remind her clients that speaking at the top of the ‘Language Ladder’, as she calls it, won’t get you quoted in the press and might actually lead to distrust. Whereas speaking at the bottom of the ladder – in simple colloquial language – has the opposite effect.
Great media quotes take a local story international
I was reminded of this in a story that started as local news and eventually received international attention. You may remember the Market Deeping Model Railway Club who had their exhibition at Stamford in Lincolnshire, vandalised a few weeks ago. The story first appeared on Twitter, quickly spread to the local paper (Stamford Mercury) and then within a few hours it hit the BBC, Guardian and Daily Mail websites. An online crowdfunding appeal was also launched.
I think the story spread so quickly for two reasons – photographs and good quotes. There were a couple of pictures showing what looked like a tornado had torn through the school hall leaving once detailed layouts, model stations and engines smashed into matchwood. Without these pictures, I doubt the story would have spread as quickly as it did. But the thing that really made this story stick for me was the quotes from the model railway club members.
Great media quotes: metaphor, alliteration and emotion
These were people with no PR advice and probably no knowledge of the importance of having a couple of clear, thought through messages to hand. The club chairman Peter Davies spoke from the heart when he said, “We are devastated and distraught. Can you imagine your life’s work wrecked? They left it like a bomb site”.
He continued, “I have never experienced anything like it, a hurricane would have done less damage”.
Finally, talking of the loss of years of effort in making detailed model trains he said, “There were grown men with tears in their eyes because of what had been done, and I was one of them.”
The directness of the language, the constant use of the first person ‘I’ and the colourful use of what we would call picture words such as: ‘bomb site’ and ‘hurricane’ all made for quotes that would be repeated again and again across many news channels. There was even a bit of alliteration with ‘devastated and distraught’. All of this came from a man who did not have experience in crafting quotes but instead found himself speaking from the heart at a time of great stress. The lesson here is not to overcomplicate our quotes but simply to try getting the colour and grit of straightforward language into our messages. It really does hit home with just about any audience and we should all think about using it more often.
In this case, the extensive media coverage led to a happy ending: so far more than a £100,000 has been donated to the club by well-wishers.