I have a friend who is a longtime journalist. He has served many media outlets in many capacities: reporter, editor, coach/teacher, seminar leader, ethicist and diversity expert.
Alas, his longtime marriage to journalism, for all practical purposes, has ended in divorce. Now he has a new bride, corporate communications and PR. As we sometimes joke, he has crossed over to the dark side.
The new bride is bedeviling him at times. She is not like his first and only true love. She has an evil streak. Yesterday was a prime example when I got an S.O.S. about the “PR quote.”
I come from a background where quote marks are used to set apart words that were actually said, he explained. Quote marks are sacred. My boss tells me we make up the quotes for the press release, he continued. Then we rewrite them and make them even better.
(I think my friend was actually surprised by this practice, although as a longtime journalist I thought he would be aware of it.)
I felt his ethical dilemma. When you think about it, quote marks do signal that someone actually said something. As my friend said, they are used as a symbol of authenticity. In fact, that’s exactly why marketing and PR departments place quotes attributed to the CEO and others in press releases.
So I told him, yes, in the PR and marketing world quotes are fabricated. They are written to be “on message.” As the agents of senior management, marketing and PR types are expected to put words in the mouths of others. Words others would endorse, of course, but not words that were actually audible.
I gave him some analogies. CEOs don’t necessarily write their own op-ed pieces or books, even though they get the byline. They don’t write their own speeches. Press releases are similar, the official company statement with a quote thrown in.
I realized I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, though. It’s just the way it works, I said. Welcome to PR and a different set of rules. Your new bride.