Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.

Adam Fisher
2nd May 2018 - 7 mins read
I

’ve woken up with content ideas in the middle of the night, half-way through a gym session and while eating dinner. One of the best ways to create content, however, is to interview people. 

Not only can these be written up as a straight interview, like this example from our magazine, but you can also use them to breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas. And invariably, as you carry out more interviews, you will find you spot more content ideas through the people you talk to. 

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different.

But how do you carry out an effective interview if you don’t have a journalism background?

I’ve worked as a journalist and now create content for Thirty Seven and its clients.

Here are my tips for successful content creation interviews:

 

Avoid the word ‘interview’

I’ve always tried to avoid using the word ‘interview’.

As a journalist, I found that it was a word that made people nervous.  It has a formal feel and conjures up thoughts of job interviews or politicians being torn apart by Jeremy Paxman on TV. 

On occasions, it would stop people from talking to me altogether.

However, if I said something like ‘have you got a few minutes for a quick chat’, I would get a much better response.

I’ve found this theory is the same when it comes to content creation. If I use the word ‘interview’, I might typically get a response like ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’.  If I say ‘I just want to get your thoughts on…’ they are generally up for the idea.

It all goes back to making sure the person you are interviewing, or wanting to interview, is relaxed.

 

Start off gently

There is a good chance that the person you will be talking to will not have done an interview before or had any form of media training (something our sister company Media First can help with).

That means that while I’m still going to take a journalistic approach to the interview, I’m going to start more gently than I would when faced with an experienced media spokesperson.

I’ll be looking to ask questions that hopefully put them at ease, help them to relax and open up and encourage them to share their thoughts.

I tend to think on my feet and if I feel they are growing in confidence I may go for some harder questions. If not, I’ll continue with open, gentle questions which encourage them to keep talking.

Whatever their confidence level, I won’t look for the curveball question that I may have used as a journalist.

 

Don’t share questions in advance

You will find conflicting advice about this in other blogs about content creation.

But, I really don’t believe in sending interviewees a list of questions I’m planning to ask in advance.

In my experience, doing this ensures scripted responses which won’t capture the conversational tone you need to aim for.

And, as I have already mentioned, I don’t prepare my own questions in advance.

I’m not completely heartless though. I will give them an overview of what I am looking for and hope to cover ahead of the interview. 

If conducting a #ContentMarketing interview, don't share the questions you're going to ask before-hand. It ensures you create a conversational tone and avoid scripted answers. Via: @37agency

 

Focus

It might sound needy, but when I carry out an interview I want the interviewee’s undivided attention.

There is nothing worse than when someone is in full flow, telling a great anecdote or story which will bring your content to life, and suddenly they are distracted by an email appearing on their screen or a phone call for example.

So, if I can, I always strive to carry out interviews away from their desk. Perhaps there is a meeting room you could use in your building, or you could possibly meet in a coffee shop.

I’ve even arranged to meet interviewees at their home to keep them away from the distracting work environment.

Similarly, I try to make sure they have got plenty of time for the interview. Finding that you have been given a 15-minute slot sandwiched between two meetings will result in a distracted interview.

 

Be curious

I have recently found myself writing content about office designs and workplace trends.

This is a subject I have not encountered in my career, despite some of the newspaper offices I have worked in being completely dingy and in desperate need of refurbishment.

So I was a little unsure of how this would go. But then my journalistic curiosity came into play and I wanted to find out what lay behind the statements I was being told.

I found myself asking lots of open questions, many of which began with ‘why’ or ‘how’ - part of the 5Ws and an H which form the basis of most lines of questioning (what, when, who, why, where and how).

Why should a modern officer contain lots of greenery? How does that improve the health of the office worker?

To adapt an old proverb, while curiosity killed the cat, lack of curiosity killed the reporter, or in this case the content producer.

 

Look out for sound bites

When we use the term sound bites in written content, we are talking about those all-important quotes that could potentially make your content stand out.

A good quote can make a punchy headline or perhaps some pull-out quotes that can be used to break up sections of content.

But, often people don’t talk in complete sentences or are not concise, which can mean finding these quotes can be tricky.

There are a couple of tricks I use.

The first is that I may suggest I have missed their last point, perhaps by saying something like ‘my shorthand isn’t what it used to be’ and ask them to repeat it in the hope they deliver something stronger second time around. 

The other approach is to re-phrase it for them. Once they have finished their point, I’ll say something along the lines of ‘so what you are saying is’ and look to produce a summary of what they have just said that better lends itself to being a quote.

If they agree with that summary then I can put the sentence I have reworded in their name.

 

Get it all down

As a former journalist, I have the advantage of being able to use shorthand when I carry out interviews.

I’ll admit my shorthand ability isn’t what it once was –neglected by years in newspaper managerial roles and a move to PR - but even if I was still capable of producing 100 words per minute, I would still look to record interviews I carry out for content production purposes to ensure I capture everything that is said.

Always make sure, however, that the interviewee is happy to be recorded.

 

Keep it conversational

I want my content to have a conversational tone.

That means that if I’m going to have lots quotes from my interviewee in the blog then I need them to be in the sort of everyday language they would use when talking to friends or family.

Industry jargon, management speak and acronyms could make great swathes of text unusable. Again, getting them out of the workplace and helping them to feel relaxed can help with this.

It also means that while I’ll have an idea of what I’m going to ask and may have some prepared questions to use as a guide, my interview is not going to be scripted.

A pretty sure fire way of making a conversation stilted is for the interviewer to make their way through a great shopping list of questions.

I want to be able to adapt as we go along and explore things that come up in conversation that I may not have considered and veer off in a direction I may not have imagined – you never know where this might lead.

 

Avoid group interviews

Group interviews are a nightmare for the content creator.

While the interviewee might prefer the ‘safety in numbers approach’, the result is typically a series of incomplete quotes as the subjects talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences.

And I think you also miss out on a lot of the personality that comes through when you talk to one person face to face.

It may be more time-consuming, but I would rather interview the people separately and then stitch together what they have said to form my content.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

The 7 critical factors in quality content

Adam Fisher 9th April 2018 — 5 mins read
B

ut there are some themes which run through content that makes people stop scrolling, think differently and take action.

In fact, we believe there are seven critical factors that all written content should strive to include. A piece of writing doesn’t necessarily have to contain all of these elements but consideration to each should be given before you put pen to paper.

 

Emotional storytelling

Humans have been communicating through stories for more than 200,000 years. 

And today, while ‘storytelling’ has become something of a content marketing buzzword, good stories still stand the test of time.  

Compelling content features personal stories which readers can relate to, that stirs emotions and takes them on a journey.

People want to hear stories about other people – humans bring stories to life.

If you think about the stories we consume every day through newspapers and broadcast media, they are all about people. And the first question journalists ask themselves when working on a story is ‘so what does this mean to people?’.

Strong content harnesses this human interest in the same way.

At Thirty Seven, we use journalists to tell captivating stories in the digital world

The ‘so what’ factor

Strong content often excites, shocks and causes people to think differently.

Often, great content is original. Even the best writers will struggle to make the same tired arguments interesting for an audience that has heard it all before. 

It is the same principle that makes a story newsworthy. Journalists are always looking for something unusual or new to write about, whether it is an opinion, some original insight or a new product. Stories that include these factors will get more airtime and newspaper coverage.

To stick with that journalism theme, and to use an old adage, dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog certainly ticks the unusual box.

Just ensure that any new, unusual or bold claims in your content can be backed up. Oh – and just because something is ‘new’ does not make it interesting. Consider this carefully - why should people care about your content?

 

Make it personal

Often the real strength of content lies in how much of themselves the author is prepared to share.

Personal anecdotes add real credibility to content and can bring the message you hope to get across to life.

Referencing problems, issues and frustrations that you have overcome, and how you solved them, shows that you are ideally placed to be producing this content.

In the blogs I have written for our sister company Media First, it is the ones where I have drawn on my experiences in journalism and communications which get the biggest response and the most interaction.  

You can also make content personal by writing the way you speak. I’m a great believer in trying to write the way I would tell the story if I was talking to friends in the pub – just without the bad language.

When producing quality content, draw in on your own experiences. People want to relate to what they're reading. - Via @37agency

 

Originality

Let’s face it, there is a lot of content out there, so to stand out and grab attention in a really crowded marketplace you need to offer something different.

Essentially, your content needs to add something new, whether it is a different perspective or opinion on a topic. This means you need to know your subject inside out, through extensive research and interviews and also know what other people have previously written about it.

Including personal experiences and examples can certainly help boost the feeling of originality and authenticity.  

 

Educational

Valuable content often provides answers to the questions your customers are asking.

This means that in order to produce meaningful content you need have a really good grasp of who your audience is and what the issues are that matter to them.

For some brands, the concern with this approach is that they are giving away their knowledge and expertise with no guarantee of a return.

But those who can see past this and can help customers address their challenges become trusted, are viewed as being credible and tend to build long lasting business relationships.

 

Strong headlines

A strong, interest-sparking headline, can be the difference between someone reading your carefully prepared work or it heading into the content abyss.

But what makes a compelling headline?

Numbers are an important tool – take another look at the headline of this blog. But, we are far from being alone in our use of numbers. If you look around on the internet you will find lots of content headlined ’9 reasons why…’ or ‘7 steps you must take…’.

Relatively low numbers can suggest your content is succinct and incisive, while it is widely considered that odd numbers work better in headlines. They also suggest authenticity because, rather than rounding up advice into a neat ten, for example, you are just giving them the information they need to know.

And as much as it pains me, as a former journalist who was taught to always spell out the numbers one to nine, using the actual digits appears to be more powerful in web content headlines.

 

Bold statements are another good way of ensuring headlines stand out and can add intrigue while asking questions in the title can leave readers wanting more. If you look at the Daily Mail website – the most popular English-language site in the world – you’ll notice it regularly uses questions in headlines to draw readers in.

 

Simplicity

An often overlooked factor in strong content is simplicity.

Readers want content which is easy to understand and consume. They will quickly lose interest and switch-off if they can’t understand what you are trying to say.

This means it is crucial that your content uses the same language your readers would use in everyday conversation.

Short paragraphs and sentences are important factors here, while jargon and unnecessarily complex or decorative words should be avoided – remember, you are not producing content to impress colleagues with your vocabulary.

You can read more about the importance of simplicity in content marketing in this recent blog.  

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Graham Jones
19th February 2018 - 5 mins read