The Power of Pull Quotes
Job number one for an editor is to sell editorial. Magazine editors are not selling a product; they are selling the reader on the magazine at large. Successful editors know that they must treat the magazine as an ongoing advertisement for itself. I call them editorial sales managers.
One of the first things a reader notices when browsing through a magazine;frontward or backwards;is the pull quote, a blurb lifted from a story and highlighted on the page.
Accordingly, this deceptively simple packaging device has a large effect on the reader, often determining whether a story is read or ignored in favor of another story.
The editor’s job is to sell a story, much in the manner that an advertiser wants to sell a product, by way of words on the page. It’s no surprise that the late, great David Ogilvy was a strong believer in the power of pull quotes;or “call-outs” as he called them. Ogilvy didn’t rush to many of his conclusions; he believed in research he commissioned on reader response to layouts. “When you have to communicate a lot of different sales points, use ‘call-outs’,” he recommended in his masterful Ogilvy on Advertising. “They are above average in recall tests.”
Likewise, pull quotes are opportunities for editors to highlight different points made in a story as it is being packaged and designed for maximum reader appeal.
Ten Tips for Selling Stories With Pull Quotes
1. Write them early and often.
Pull quotes are best prepared while editing the story, not when written as fillers during layout. Writers are often a good source for pull quotes;ask them to indicate candidates in the text. If a story runs four pages in layout, you will need five or six pull quotes. Place final selections at the end of the file in the order in which they are to appear in layout (more about placement below), and always edit some extras so there’s some choice.
2. Pull quotes should precede their appearance in a story’s text.
The goal is to draw readers into your pages and to sell them on what’s ahead, not to make them feel like they are watching a re-run.
3. Pull quotes should be chronological.
They should appear in the same order that the copy they are extracted from appears in the text.
4. Only one pull quote per page, please.
Unless they are very brief, more than one pull quote per page looks like the story came up short and you are creating filler.
5. Ten to twenty words, no longer.
The long-winded pull quote is more likely to turn off readers than sell them on the story. When a text excerpt runs longer than twenty words, it is acceptable editorial practice to condense it as a pull quote. Condense only for compactness, of course;never change the meaning of what has been written. No ellipses or brackets are necessary to indicate the editorial tightening, unless it’s a direct quote.
6. Two to four lines, no longer.
Short quotes often look like an eye chart when they dribble down a page; long quotes create a dense-pack look after four lines. In both instances, readability is endangered.
7. Visuals add allure.
Photos and illustrations can help sell the story with impact. Again, we know from the marketing gospel according to Ogilvy that readers look first at the visual, then at the pull quote, then at the story.
8. Use quote marks only when a speaker is being quoted directly.
Never put quotes around narrative text. When tightening a speaker’s direct quote, use an ellipsis to so indicate.
9. Best placement is top half of page.
Again, from research by Ogilvy, we know that readers scan downward. Meet them at the start of this process. Pull quotes near;or, worse, at;the bottom of a page can resemble afterthoughts or fillers.
10. Never reveal the conclusion.
Pull quotes that give away the ending are counter productive. As editorial marketing devices, pull quotes are intended to keep the reader in the story right to the last paragraph. Most readers still like to believe in Santa’s clauses. They want to discover what’s under the editorial tree for themselves.
John Brady, former editor-in-chief at Writer’s Digest and Boston Magazine and founding editor of The Artist’s Magazine, is partner at Brady & Paul Communications and professional in residence at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. He can be reached at Bradybrady@aol.com.
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