Interviewing subject experts for top content marketing isn’t scary – if you’re prepared.
If you don’t set yourself up for success, well …
No one wants to see that happen. That’s why you need to lay the groundwork before you contact anyone.
Interviewing: Why would I do that for content marketing?
Interviewing experts adds depth, credibility and trustworthiness to your marketing content. People pay attention when you capture and share insights from respected sources. Experts elevate your content and help keep it from being self-serving.
Other benefits of interviewing experts include:
- Exploring topics that no one else is doing
- Discovering new twists on topics everyone is covering
- Diving deep into complex topics that you wouldn’t be able to write about on your own
- Getting more mileage from your content marketing because your experts will share it with their networks
- Increasing your brand’s visibility
- Enhancing your website in search
Building your list of experts for top content marketing
Be sure to allow yourself enough time to find the right experts. That can be a time-consuming process. Top experts are busy giving interviews to journalists on public health, economic and business topics. Your thought leadership article on how CEOs can drive improvements in workplace safety will take a back seat.
How to approach subject experts for marketing content
Cold outreach can be tough. During my career as a journalist and marketer, I’ve been ignored more times than I can count. It’s best to form connections with experts in person or online before contacting them for interviews.
An old reporter’s “trick” is to make friends with experts’ assistants because they can help you get your foot in the door. They maintain schedules and know the best way to contact your experts (their bosses).
Assistants also help streamline the content review and approval process. The information they provide is golden, so treat them well.
When requesting interviews, you might need to alternate emails and phone calls. I usually start with email. It’s easier to provide the necessary details about your request in writing than in a voicemail.
In your email to experts, assistants, media relations departments and spokespeople, include:
- Who you are, who you work for and where you’ll publish and share your content
- Your availability and your deadline
- The types of questions you’ll ask
- How long you’ll need for the interview
- Review and editing options for your expert
- How your expert could benefit. For example, will you link to the expert’s website, writing or research?
- Next steps
Now, the waiting game
After sending an initial email, I’ll wait two to three business days. If I don’t receive a response, I’ll email again. If that yields no results, I’ll call the prospective source, media relations rep, etc., within one to two business days. If I get crickets after the third try, I usually move on. If I have a limited pool of experts and a tight deadline, however, I might try contacting another person in the organization. Being persistent (but not stalker scary) and reaching out to multiple people will often get results.
As a last resort for your content marketing, try a personal appeal. For example, if you want to interview a hospital CEO and the media relations department ghosts you, email the CEO or the CEO’s assistant. Explain how you and your family have received top-notch care at the hospital and how grateful you are. Provide enough details to be convincing, but don’t write a novel. Detail the nature of the expertise you seek and how much it would mean to you and your audience to interview the CEO.
Above all, respect experts and their time. They’re busy people who are in high demand and have many priorities. By granting you an interview and sharing their expertise, they’re doing you a favor.
What about email interviews?
In my experience, email interviews fall flat. Experts don’t answer questions in detail over email, which means multiple exchanges back and forth to flesh out answers. That’s a drag on resources and time. In addition, live interviews provide more color and context than you’d ever get in email responses. Sources typically treat email questionnaires as a “checkbox” item. They simply want to get it done.
Nothing beats a live and open conversation for quotable, shareable content.
How many subject experts should I interview?
Writers often wonder how many experts they should interview. Here’s my advice: Avoid one-source stories. They’re weak and often read like promotional fluff, which affects your credibility and makes it difficult for your audience to trust you. Balanced stories that present multiple views are thought-provoking and engaging.
For example, I wrote an in-depth blog post about remote work and why more people were working from home before COVID-19. I could have written a one-sided article about the benefits of remote work. I didn’t do that because it ignored the downsides. I dug deep to find experts who could discuss the good and the bad.
I recommend two or three experts per story. A complex subject or white paper could require more. Aim for quality over quantity. In addition, do your best to give equal time to different viewpoints. By interviewing multiple experts, you’ll match your writing standards to those of a magazine or newspaper. As a result, you’ll open the door to follow-up interviews and articles. And you’ll get top content marketing.
How to prepare for and ace expert interviews for top content marketing
Before interviewing subject experts for your content marketing, make sure you research your topic and your experts. If you don’t know anything about your subject, you’ll waste their time and yours. After you’ve done your initial homework and scheduled interviews, ask your experts for relevant background. Review these assets as part of your interview prep.
Next, prepare and share your questions in advance if experts ask for them. They might need to gather statistics and other information, so be sure to allow time for that. Ask open-ended questions that drive inspired responses. The goal is to avoid questions that are easy to answer only yes or no. For most interviews, I start with general questions and become more specific as the conversation progresses.
When you schedule interviews, allow enough time to cover all your questions. Remember that you may need to coordinate time zones. Here’s a handy time zone scheduler. It’s beyond embarrassing to call an expert two hours early because you forgot about the time difference.
Top tips from an interview pro
So, the big day is here – it’s time for your interview. Here are my best tips for success:
- Provide an introduction. Before you dive into your questions, provide a quick recap of who you are, your topic, your audience and where you’ll publish the content.
- Begin with easy questions. Help your expert relax and get the conversation flowing.
- Don’t fill the silence. Your expert might need a moment to gather thoughts and form answers. Long pauses can feel awkward, but they can lead to compelling, quote-worthy material.
- Be flexible. If your expert goes in a different direction than you expected, go with it. You can then guide the interview back on track.
- Respect your expert’s time. If the clock is running out, and you weren’t able to ask all of your questions, make a judgment call about what to do. If you know the expert has a hard stop, don’t ask for more time. If you don’t know his schedule, you can tell him he’s been generous with his time and ask for a few more minutes. If he declines, you can email your remaining questions if the list is short. Whatever you do, avoid contacting your expert for a second interview. It sends the message that you don’t value your expert’s time.
- Share next steps. If your expert will review the article before you publish it, let him know when he can expect a draft. Meet or beat that deadline.
- Send a thank-you email. Right after your interview, email your expert, telling him you appreciated his insights and time. You can also remind him you’ll send a draft by X date.
How to capture interviews for top content marketing
For many years, I’ve taken notes on my computer during interviews. I’m a fast typist and prefer this method because it’s easy for me. I can record the insights I need and omit those I don’t.
No matter how you capture expert interviews, write your content while the interviews are fresh in your mind. It’s easier to write soon afterward than it is to wait months. Waiting also puts you at risk for losing your notes or transcriptions. In addition, if you need to clarify an expert’s point, it’s best to do that promptly.
Go forth and write!
Now that you’ve got a blueprint for how to find subject experts, conduct interviews and capture their comments, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and start creating shareable top content marketing that your audience craves.