By Dennis McCafferty on

4 Ways to Conduct a Great Content Interview

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I read many blogs and reports about content marketing, and most focus on storytelling and SEO: You want to convey a compelling narrative about your clients, and, obviously, you need people – specifically your target audience members – to find it online and read it.

As part of this, the experts discuss content “plots,” research, problem-solving takeaways, calls to action, conclusions and, of course, keywords.

But what too often gets lost during the conversation is a key “must do” that, without which, content frequently falls flat: good interviewing

At our high tech PR firm, we feel that strong interviews with clients – for the purpose of writing blogs, industry press bylines, case studies, white papers, etc. – build a critical foundation for all of the aforementioned, necessary elements. If you can’t collaborate with your client to come up with fresh, insightful commentary about an IT-related topic, then the resulting effort will fail to distinguish itself from the wealth of competing content which is written about the same subject. To emerge from the crowd, you need to provide compelling answers to your target audience’s problems, as 84 percent of today’s audience expects content to provide solutions to them.

With this in mind, here are three tips to consider:

Do your homework. Whether you conduct the interview in person or on the phone, you must recognize the fact that the interviewee (usually a highly placed client executive) has set aside valuable time to speak with you. So make the best of the opportunity by preparing beforehand. Research the topic. Find compelling industry surveys which support the basic premise. Go on the company site and/or LinkedIn to find out more about the executive. With this, you’ll immediately establish your dedication and credibility – and that will impress the interviewee, encouraging him or her to open up.

Listen. As a content professional and former journalist, I’ve sat in on plenty of bad interviews. Many turn out to be duds because the interviewers aren’t really listening to the answers. They assemble a dozen or so pre-conceived questions and “run down the script,” failing to make adjustments which reflect the actual responses. So, instead of writing out a formal series of questions, develop more flexible “talking points” to cover instead. That way, you’ll spend more time listening and steering the conversation accordingly – the client just said something that was interesting and unexpected, so follow-up on those thoughts, and then follow-up some more! – as opposed to leading a flat, robotic “checklist of questions” discussion.

Engage. Clearly, an interview will go nowhere if the client executive is disengaged. Be personable and friendly – but not fawning. Try to find out about the executive’s interests and connect through those. Use humor as a possible tool – but not a distraction. When you hit the right “human” notes here, you’ll make a smoother segue to the business at hand.

Stick with “the structure.” Whether your interview is about cloud computing, cyber threat analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), etc., the core construct of content includes three essential components: There is a problem. There is a solution. Then, the solution makes impact. Sure, these components will vary in terms of scope, situation, metrics and other qualities, according to the technology and story nuances at hand. But you build practically all of your content upon them. Subsequently, you frame your interview so that you have thoroughly explored and “painted a clear picture” of all three. Otherwise, when it comes time to write, you’ll stare at a blank computer screen indefinitely – with no decent material to help you through the block. (And if you try to “wing it” with the writing, the client will know.)

At W2 Communications, we’ve built a thriving content division because we don’t “get lost” within a deep sea of keywords and formulas. We understand that every company has a different story to tell, and we do what it takes to make the story come alive. In most cases, the quality of the interview will determine our success. If this sounds like the kind of approach you like to work with, then please do contact us.

Dennis McCafferty is Vice President of Content at W2 Communications.

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Dennis McCafferty, Vice President of Content

As Vice President of Content, Dennis McCafferty brings more than 20 years of experience in editorial, working in all forms of content: metro/national newspapers, regional/national magazines, custom publications/content marketing, radio, TV, blogs and social media. Since joining W2 Communications, Dennis’s projects have included white papers, industry-publication byliners, blogs, op-eds, podcasts and case studies for the range of the agency’s clients.

Previously, he launched his own B2B/B2G/custom-publishing business, DM Enterprises, and worked with clients such as IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, USAA, Nationwide, Amtrak, Ritz-Carlton, MasterCard, GM and many others for their content marketing needs. He has also contributed to Baseline, CIO Insight, Washington Technology and VARBusiness magazine, among other titles.

From September 1997 through March 2010, he served as Senior Writer at USA WEEKEND, for which he interviewed newsmakers such as Presidents Bush and Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Donald Trump and Web founder Tim Berners-Lee. Before WEEKEND, he was a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he won a national, first-place award for investigative reporting.

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