How often do you suppose participants who are interviewed for a PR or marketing project complain because what you wrote happens to be more compelling and concise than what they had actually said?

The answer, of course, is never—as long as they understood that this was not a research assignment, a deposition, or (recent bad apples notwithstanding) a newspaper column.

Quotes used in marketing collateral need to be truthful and snappy. The challenge is that unless you happen to be sitting across the tape recorder from someone like Winston Churchill, the interview will typically lack snappy.

So, when you use quotes to add color and credibility to newsletters, press releases, success stories, or even to video scripts, they should represent the best of what your participants meant to say. Compelling quotes are not happy accidents; they are gems mined from logically-ordered transcripts of well-planned interviews.

To illustrate, let's say that you are the director of marketing at a mid-sized, growing company, and you have finally been given the go-ahead for that series of testimonial cases you've been pushing for.

However, the entire project hinges on the success of the first case, and your boss wants to save money by having you conduct the taped interviews. He also wants you to highlight the best quotes before handing the material off to a professional writer. What now?

With success stories, your most effective subjects will be clients who are not just happy doing business with you, but overjoyed about how much money you have either saved them or helped them to make. In almost any situation, "he said, she said" won't yield much compelling material; the best stuff always comes directly from the main characters.

Having already familiarized yourself with the facts and figures, your mission during the interview should be to provide the framework for compelling quotes to happen. You do this by getting your participant to elaborate on specific points that you see as critical to the story.

As with any professional dialogue, your questions should be of the "how, what and why" variety in order to draw out open-ended responses. Take notes, but pay attention to what is being said. With some practice, you'll be able to recognize good quote material in the moment. When they do jump out at you, ask your participant to speak more to that point.

A thing said well is good, but the same thing said well again—in a slightly different way—that's a marketing quote-miner's dream.

Following the interview your first task is to verify that your recorder performed as expected. If (gulp!) you hear dead air, drop everything and immediately add as much detail to your notes as possible.

Don't even think about asking for another go with the client. Unless you're related by blood or similarly obligated, consider yourself on your own. While a recording device malfunction is about as bad as it gets, it is possible to salvage a fair amount of the session from memory as long as you can work fast before your recollection fades.

The next step is to get the transcript typed up. Then, as you scroll down through the thick paragraphs of raw discourse, make liberal use of the return-key in order to break it all up into two- and three-sentence sound-bites. Create theme and issue headings, and if a particular phrase or set of remarks works well under multiple sections, copy and paste it under all that apply.

Now the fun can begin. Your task is to identify the best comments, and use the subject's own words to encapsulate that meaning as a compelling quote. For example, from this verbatim observation:

“The application, when we installed it, was up and running no problem at all. We were thrilled because it worked beautifully. After six months, I would say, the program had paid for itself. Actually, it was probably less than six months.”

…springs this compelling quote:

The application was up and running; no problem. It worked beautifully, and the program paid for itself in less than six months. We were thrilled.

Here's another example. Imagine that early on in the interview your subject had said:

“Your tech-guys like Gary—their follow-up after the installation was great.”

Then, as the session was winding down, she added:

“You know, I think, bottom line; if we had not had your guys calling us every week to see how things were going, we wouldn't have gotten our pay-back so quickly.”

So, what was she trying to say? Maybe something like:

Bottom line, it was the tech department's follow-up that helped us to achieve our payback in so little time. They were great.

When the piece is finished, always send a draft to the participants for an edit round. You can expect a few changes here and there, like, “I realize that I said I was picky, but change that to ‘very particular.'”

Overall though, you will discover that if you have said what they meant, then you'll have no problem if it's not exactly what they said. And yes; you can quote me on that.

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Carl Hedberg Carl Hdberg is a business writer who specializes in success stories, business school teaching cases, and other interview-driven projects. Reach him at