Unlocking great thought leadership through the interview process

Posted by Mark Wellings | 23-04-14


One of the best ways of communicating the expertise of any B2B firm is by interviewing your thought leaders. But getting the best out of interviewees is not always easy. The five tips below will help to improve the process.

Build confidence

A controversial topic may mean some are reticent to comment. Others may have had bad experiences with pushy journalists looking for a negative news story. Send over a list of questions beforehand so that interviewees can prepare a careful response. These should be centred around journalism’s six basic questions (Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?).

Prepare and communicate a robust process – interviewees will want to know how approvals work. Also, who will do the interviews? How will they be done – over the phone or in person? How long before the interviewee gets to see a draft? Having the answers to these questions at your fingertips will build confidence.

Be realistic

Realistic expectations are equally important. Many of your interviewees will be extremely busy and may struggle to see the benefits of marketing communications. Again, a clear explanation can help. But a realistic timeframe that allows interviewees to respond at their convenience and avoids pressure through threats of looming deadlines will avoid friction.

While some will prefer to send quotes by email, you should discourage this. A phone or face-to-face conversation will add an extra dimension to comment, bringing out the subject’s personality through their word choices and speech patterns.

And be on time for an agreed appointment but be prepared for an interviewee to change plans will little or no notice.

Know your topic

Research is crucial. Without a basic understanding of the subject matter you will not get to the heart of the issue. Flailing to cover up a lack of knowledge torpedoes your credibility.

Do what you can to get a grasp of the topic but be honest: a candid admission that you are not an expert will encourage the interviewee to explain in a way that is easier for your readers to comprehend.

You should always show interest in what your interviewee is telling you. It is important to them.

Get what you need

While courtesy and civility are crucial, never forget that you are in the driving seat. Think carefully about where you want to get from an interview and don’t be afraid to (politely) steer a conversation that is veering off course. You should aim for a discussion which results in usable quotes that are self-explanatory. Avoid anything that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Questions that start with ‘how’ and ‘why’ tend to give the best responses.

Ask the most important question first. An interviewee pressed for time may have to cut the interview short. Always remember that you are there to get the perspective of the interviewee, not give your own. Keep your talking to a minimum to ensure the best use of time.

You will find that disappointing responses are often because an interviewee doesn’t understand what you want from them. In this situation, take the time to explain the project and how the interview fits in. They may be interested to find out about the process and can help tailor their own comment to best fit your goals.

Be generous in your write up

Remember that your goal is to make the interviewee look good. You should obviously not include any mistakes in their quotes, but equally don’t edit out their personality. If they meander around a point, explain it more clearly in a paraphrase. A shorter ‘sound bite’ can follow in quotation marks.

Both interviewees and readers will react much more positively to content with strong sharp comment.

Mark Wellings

Written by Mark Wellings

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