How to Interview Company Leaders to Create Marketing Content
By Aaron Joslow
My uncle told me as a kid "that a good idea isn't worth a dime." Good ideas would only grow his publishing company if somebody did something with one.
Your company leaders have millions of dollars of good ideas, stories, and information in their heads that prospective clients would love to read. To cash in, you need to start by interviewing your leaders.
How do you do that? How do you gather information from leaders who are too busy to craft their own content or need the expertise of writers and editors to shape what they know into publishable material?
Here are some key actions for interviewing leaders to create content for your company's marketing campaigns.
Start Big—Zoom In
In most cases, it helps to prepare. Bullet what you want the content piece to leave the readers knowing, the elements the story must capture, and the goal of the marketing campaign itself. All this will help you to create a mental map of the piece before you conduct the interview.
You can then envision the beginning, middle, and end sections. With a case study, there is usually the situation—big picture and tactical—the challenge, the actions, and the results. Articles tend to address a problem and launch into a how-to before concluding. And white papers and presentations often begin with a big-picture concept, and then break it down into stages and their parts, before recapping everything.
Going into an interview have some open-ended questions at hand to flush out each section. Some questions or requests might be:
- Beginning—Tell me about the problem you were facing. What was the day-to-day business reality before the project began? How did this problem become a priority?
- Middle—What objective(s) did you set when you took this project on? Distinguish for me and tell me about the important elements of this campaign. Paint a picture for me of the end result you wanted to accomplish. What unexpected challenges did you face and how were they addressed? Tell me a story or describe a moment or action that captured the essence of what happened.
- End—Why do you consider the end result a success? What has the successful completion of this campaign enabled you to do? What lessons did you learn and how have you applied them going forward? What specific metrics did you hit or surpass?
As a non-expert (or a not-as-expert-as-the-expert) conducting the interview, it is important to let the interviewee provide the details. Your job is to create a framework for the information and to ask open-ended questions that give the expert room to share what there is to share.
In general, keep to a small number of predetermined questions during the interview because it is usually only once the expert speaks that you discover what is truly important.
Factual Listening vs. Emotional Listening
One specific listening skill made a big difference for me in the business world. The concept is simple: You can listen for facts and you can listen for emotions.
To demonstrate this, a mediation training program led an exercise. Someone would talk for five minutes about growing up. Two people would listen.
One person would listen for the facts: During what years did they grow up in different locations? What were the names of their best friends, family members, schools, favorite hangout spots, etc? The second person would listen and look for emotions: When did the speaker express excitement or passion? What words were spoken louder or softer? At what points did the speaker linger, smile or frown?
After five minutes, each listener recapped what they heard. The two listeners heard entirely different conversations. For instance, the emotional listener would recount the scene where the speaker discovered their favorite ice cream flavor while the factual listener would recount the year of their high school graduation, birth date, and population of their hometown.
When you interview a thought leader, listen through both emotional and factual filters. While challenging, it leads to more interesting, more engaging, more thorough content pieces.
If the content piece is about a marketing project, the factual listening will provide you with key metrics, the elements of a campaign, and the business objectives. The emotional listening will provide you with any "Aha" moments the consultant provided and with any details that the client was excited by.
Documenting Your Interview
Worrying about capturing every word of an interview will not work. It diminishes your listening and the interviewee will respond by being less patient and forthcoming.
Plan to record and transcribe your conversations. You can use an iPhone, an app like Call Burner to record a Skype conversation, or something like recordmycalls.com to capture a phone conversation. Then have someone type up the interview.
With a transcript, you can read through the conversation, dissect it and organize it into sections, and start to envision an outline for the content piece. As a bonus, you will likely have all the exact quotes you need, too.
Make Sure You Get It
Jargon and terminology are the enemies of clear writing. Many experts will drop a term without defining what it means. If they are an expert in surveys, they will mention survey intelligence, psychographics, and attribute questions; and if they are experts in "collaboration technology" they will mention collaboration technology and similar terms without explaining what it means…unless you ask.
The world of consulting, IT, law, accounting, marketing, executive education and the like is filled with smart people. Interviewers often have the concern of appearing stupid or looking bad. Let go of that concern and feel free to tell an expert once, twice, or even three times that you do not understand a concept, term, or detail. They will appreciate your earnestness and curiosity and you will have the understanding you need to write clearly.
Creating marketing content can bring in a lot of business for your organization. Be sure that when you write it, you can write clearly. My uncle and any other publisher would agree that fuzzy, poorly-written ideas aren't worth a dime, but clear, well-written ones grow businesses.
Aaron Joslow is a principal at Rally Point Webinars who specializes in content development and webinar implementation. Click here to email Aaron.