This post was co-written by our staff members, Tara Clapper and Hannah Darling.
In content marketing, interviewing is a crucial component.
Giving a successful interview is not only an efficient way to generate content, but it also provides fresh material that people will genuinely want to read.
As project managers with backgrounds in feature interview creation and publication, we’ve streamlined our processes for the workflow here at Express Writers.
Here’s our co-created guide to save and refer to when it’s time to conduct an effective interview for your content marketing subject. Enjoy!
How to Conduct a Content Marketing Interview: An Essential Guide to Prepping & Interviewing Your Subjects
Here are our top tips for preparing your interview subjects for the interview.
1. Schedule and Confirm
When you’re juggling multiple interviews, organization is essential. Sometimes, you may need to work through a third party to schedule calls – a press contact, content manager, or someone who wants you to interview a client or employee.
Tools to Use
Tara: I use Calendly to schedule all my business calls. I block out time (marked as busy) when I don’t want to take calls, such as on weekends or when I need time to answer clients’ emails or create content. Calendly also sends you and the interview subject an email confirmation.
If you need to schedule with multiple interviewees frequently, Doodle may suit your needs better.
2. Prep Your Interview Subject
Before you get on the phone with your interview subject, it will help them to know exactly what the interview will be about. That’s best done in the introductory email, which should be professional and enticing.
Once they accept, follow up with some more detailed information:
Email 1 – Initial Interview Pitch
Subject: Interview Invitation – [Brand Name] Blog
Hello, Name of Potential Interview Subject:
My name is Tara, Content Development Specialist at Express Writers. I’m writing on behalf of our client, Brand Name. Brand Name knows you’re an industry leader in Industry, and they’re very interested in featuring you on their blog, located here: ExpressWritersClientBlog.com/blog.
To get an idea of how it would look, please check out this blog post with Other Industry Superstar: ExpressWritersClientBlog.com/blog/superstarpost.html
If you’re interested, please let me know what days work best. You can book a time most convenient for you here: www.calendly.com/this-is-an-example.
I’d love to discuss [unique thing they’ve done in their industry], and I’d also like to provide you with the opportunity to promote your book. We could even include a discount code or link to a sample.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Email 2 – Follow up email
Subject: Thank You For Scheduling an Interview
Name of Interview Subject:
Thank you so much for accepting the interview invitation. I look forward to speaking with you on Monday, February 17th at 4 p.m. ET. I’ll call you at 555-555-5555.
I hope to focus on your impressive career in Your Industry: how you got started, what drives you to innovate, and where you think you’ll be in five years. I’m also curious about what prompted you to write and publish a book.
Unless you’re dealing with a veteran interviewee, it can really benefit you both to prep them a second time in person (or over the phone) right before you start. If you need long, direct quotes, you can encourage them to expand as much as possible when a question is asked and to try and avoid one word answers.
3. Set Parameters for Promotion
If the interview subject has a new book or a product they’d like to promote, you should let them know whether it’s okay for them to push their product. I usually handle this preemptively (see above emails), stating that I’m going to include a link to their product, and confirm which link I want to use.
Since they know it’ll be included, they usually feel less inclined to insert too much self-promotional speech. I also try to put one question in there about their product or book, even if that’s not the center of the conversation.
4. Ask the Softball Question, Then Play Hardball
Interview subjects vary – some get on the phone ready to talk about their unique place in their industry or field of expertise. Others are reticent and don’t know exactly what to say. Either way, you want to use the interview to develop a piece which highlights and distinguishes your interview subject from every other expert in their field.
In your research, try to discover:
- What makes them interesting?
- What are they best known for?
- What personal facts and experiences help shape the human element of this person’s story?
Once you begin the interview, ask some ‘easy’ questions, like “How did you get your start in this field?” Once you’re a few questions in, ask something a bit more hard hitting. (In a business interview, you don’t need to ask a Barbara-Walters-make-them-cry question, but try for something thought-provoking.) If your interview subject says they need to think or that they’ve never been asked that question before, you’re on the right track!
Make sure not to ask ‘yes or no’ questions unless absolutely necessary, especially if the purpose of the interview is to serve as the foundation for a blog or article. If you do, there will be very little material to work with when all’s said and done, and you won’t have anything quotable.
More is more. The more information that you have to pull from, the better. Ask every question that comes to mind, whether or not you think it will be interesting.
Pause. As unnatural as it feels, when your interviewee is answering a question and they come to the end of a thought, pause before you say anything. Sometimes in that moment, they’ll keep talking if you let the silence hang there for a moment longer than feels comfortable. Don’t fill in the blanks or utter too many affirming phrases. In normal conversation, encouraging words to show that you’re listening or understand are important. In an interview, it can ruin the moment.
Oprah Winfrey is a master of thoughtful, emotive interviews. This is especially noticeable in her 2015 interview with J.K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” series.
Check out the magic that happens when an experienced, conversational interviewer questions a celebrated storyteller:
5. Demand Empathy From Yourself
In the above interview, the empathy Oprah has for J.K. Rowling is unspoken, but facilitates the flow of the interview. Both women struggled with poverty and rose to international success, and at this point in their careers, they are ready for their next chapters.
Similarly, a successful interviewer has empathy for their subject. It can be as simple as both being parents, owning the same brand of car, or being pet owners. Whatever it is, finding that one simple thing to mention to your interview subject can really generate some trust and make the conversation a bit easier.
6. Consider the Interview a Conversation
Unless you need all of your interview questions strictly approved by a third party prior to the interview, you should remain open to asking spontaneous questions. This is why phone or Skype interviews may yield better results than email interviews – however, you can always ask follow up questions in email interviews if necessary.
Your interview subject could bring up an interesting point or something you hadn’t previously considered – and if it’s relevant, it’s like finding a strand you can spin into fresh yarn about a brand or individual.
Learn From Four Professional Journalists
These top journalists, interviewers, and producers provide some valuable tips on how to interview and present your subject’s story in an appealing way.
1. Katie Couric
“Nothing’s worse for me… as a viewer, to watch someone go down a laundry list of questions and not explore something with a little more depth… You have to be willing to veer off in a totally different direction.”
Katie Couric offers tips on:
- Interview preparation
- Creating concise and informative questions
- Adjusting tone based on interview subject
- Anticipating follow-up questions
2. Tavis Smiley
“There’s a very simple but poignant rule if you want to be a good interviewer….what makes sense to me is a conversation. It’s not scripted; it’s not laid out…it’s what works best in terms of media approaches to getting the most out of people.”
Tavis Smiley suggests:
- Be an active listener
- Understand both the subject and the issue at hand
3. Larry King
“If you see more times…that the host is on camera, it’s a bad interview to me…you want the guest to be good…The best way to learn something is take a step back and ask good questions.”
Larry King says his success comes from:
- Leaving himself out of the interview
- Following up on insightful interview responses
- Being naturally curious
- Putting guests at ease and being a ‘why’ person
4. Scott Simon
“The story ought to have a point – I don’t mean a lesson, or a moral, or even a punchline, but a point. Something people can take away from you.”
To make your interview memorable, Scott Simon advises:
- Give them a small detail to remember and to pass on to others as they retell it
- Ensure you have a strong beginning in your final piece
- Tell your story in “short, breathable sections”
- Have fun discovering the story in the interview
Need Help Conducting Your Interview Questions for Content Marketing?
Are you interested in having an expert, employee, customer, or content partner interviewed for your company’s blog?
Express Writers can take care of that for you!
Our experienced writers employ the above tactics and will provide you with a resourceful, insightful, natural interview transcript.
We can even transform the interview into a blog based on your desired format, afterwards.