Adam Fisher
26th October 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

How to keep coming up with ideas for content

Adam Fisher 23rd May 2018 — 6 mins read
I

’ve written three blogs a week for three years now for our sister company Media First.

During that time I have often wondered where the next post is going to come from, yet I haven’t missed one yet. Of course, it helps to have a great team of inspiring people around me – including an amazing editor who is not only uber talented but exceptionally good looking (Ed – is this getting obvious now?)

Anyhow, here’s how I get my ideas for regular content: 

 

The news and trending topics

News sites are a great source of material and inspiration for the content I produce.

Whether it is news from your own sector or industry, or national or international news, current affairs and events are a source that cannot be ignored.

Sometimes the content I produce will be a direct commentary of these stories, but on other occasions, it will just help me find a way into writing about a wider issue I want to discuss.

I once used a news story about stoned sheep as a hook for a blog about media training, which, to prove one of my points you will read about shortly, was written in an A&E waiting room while waiting for my wife to be seen by doctors (ever the supporting husband).

When you are sourcing stories through social media sites, it is always worth looking at how people have reacted. This will give you a ‘voice of the people’ perspective and these thoughts can trigger an equally strong source of creativity. Via: @37agency

The other great thing about using this source as inspiration is that your content will be timely – often a key factor in motivating people to read.

 

Ideas come when you least expect them

One of the things I have found is that content ideas often come to me when I’m not really expecting or looking for them.

Some of the better ideas I have had have come to me on the commute, while playing with my children, in the middle of the night and even while sat on the loo (possibly too much information, but it is true).

Whereas it can often be a fruitless, smash-my-head into-the-desk kind of frustrating experience if I’m sat in the office trying to forcefully generate ideas.

The key for me is to make sure I make a note of these ideas when they pop into my head, even if it is just on my phone, because they can often quickly be forgotten.

 

Interview people

Carrying out interviews can be a great source of content and they can breathe fresh life into your blogs.

Not only can they be written up in a variety of ways, from a straight Q&A style to quotes throughout an article, but they also often generate additional content ideas.

People in your organisation, key influencers in your sector and people you have recently worked with could all make good interviewees and help you produce something a bit different for your readers.

My one word of advice would be to avoid the word ‘interview’ – it tends to make people nervous and cautious – not what you need for producing interesting content.

Make it sound informal by referring to it as a ‘quick chat’.

 

Recycling

This may sound unintentionally arrogant, but I find combing through the archives of content I have produced before a good source of material.

By that, I mean I find ways of repurposing that content into something new.

It could, for example, be as simple as updating an old blog. For our sister company Media First, I once wrote a blog that looked back on the best interviews of the year. Now I do that every year.

It may be that the topic has moved on and developed and that I’m now in a position to write to follow-up post capturing that new thinking.

Or perhaps I might now focus in on a specific part of a previous post and take a look at it in more depth.

I’ll also look back at the blogs that have been particularly successful in the past and think about how that content could be freshened up.

 

Your colleagues

The people you work with can be a great source of content ideas.

And they are often better placed to know the issues and problem your customers are experiencing and want answering.

The challenge, however, particularly for larger organisations, can be to get wider team members to buy into the content strategy.

There are two approaches here. One way is to hold formal brainstorming (I hate that word) meetings with a few people from different parts of the organisation. This can be a good method, but some people may feel reticent about coming forward with ideas which are not fully formed, particularly if there are more senior colleagues in the room.

The other approach, and one I generally find more productive is to speak to colleagues informally and more regularly and remind them that I am always after ideas for blogs. With this method, I tend to find people regularly send me an email or a text when a content idea comes to mind.  

 

The competition

Chances are some of your competitors are producing a lot of their own content, which could provide an inspiration.

I will do this very occasionally, but it is not something I’m a big fan of.

This isn’t because I think my content is better, but because I fear it can be too easy to fall into the trap of producing something similar.

Originality is a key factor for me in content that stands out so I prefer to find my inspiration in other sources.

 

Ask the audience

What better way to find out what your readers want to read about than by directly asking them?

If you feel you are approaching the end of your content supply, ask your readers what issues they would like you to address in future posts.

Or put the question out there through your social media channels.

Even if you only get a handful of responses, it could generate some fresh ideas.

Whilst I’m on this point – why not let me know what you’d like to see me write about next by emailing hello@thirtyseven.agency.

 

Turn to the tech

If all else fails, you can always turn to the tech.

There are plenty of blog topic generators available on the internet where you simply need to type in a few phrases and the algorithms do their magic. Hubspot has a pretty decent one for example and I used it to type in the words ‘content’, ‘marketing’ and ‘writing’. It came back with the following:

15 best blogs to follow about content

Think you’re cut out for doing marketing? Take this quiz

7 things about writing your boss wants to know

20 myths about content

What will marketing be like in 100 years?

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always relevant or unique, but they are free and they may just come up with something you can work with and develop.

 

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.

Adam Fisher
13th February 2018 - 4 mins read

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.