- On March 30, 2016
When Aaron Bell, the CEO of an online advertising placement firm, interviewed with Microsoft when he was just 16 years old, he was asked, “How do you know the light goes off in the refrigerator when you close the door?” His response? “I would put my baby sister in the refrigerator and then pull her out and check the dilation of her eyes.”
He got the job.
His quote, which first appeared in Adam Bryant’s “Corner Office” column in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times, cropped up a few days later in a trending column on the paper’s website. It sure stood out.
I realize that morbid things we do to our siblings aren’t the stuff of spokesperson fare, but when crafting quotes for press releases, articles, or interviews, we can take a cue from what Bell said. Here are a few pointers:
• Speak in natural-sounding English, avoiding corporate and industry jargon. A while ago, I came across this quote, “As CFO, she helped improve resource optimization across different businesses through better capital and funding allocation, as well as expense reductions.” I had to consult with someone schooled in finance to figure out what that meant and come up with this alternative: “As CFO, she helped improved profitability by efficiently allocating capital across business lines and controlling expenses.”
• Give an opinion about—or an interpretation of—the news you’re delivering. Do not simply repeat the news or say you’re excited, delighted, or thrilled by it. That’s empty talk and does not advance your story, which messages from spokespeople should do. In the following quote, a portfolio manager explains why he took a stake in a biopharmaceutical company: “We’re much more interested in brilliant science than we are in brilliant M&A.” He did not say he was excited to buy shares in the company.
• Be straightforward. When Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, was asked about the company’s merger with Continental, he was quoted as saying, “This integration has been rocky. Period.” Which brings up another pointer: Keep your sentences short. Don’t use 30 words when 10—or, in Munoz’s case, six—will do.