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
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’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

Our guide to copy writing jargon

Adam Fisher 16th May 2018 — 7 mins read
T

wenty years down the line these terms are second nature to me, but I have to keep reminding myself that to many others they are a mystery.

Content production, like any other industry, has words, phrases and acronyms which while meaningful to those working in it, mean nothing to those outside.

Of course, we don’t use these terms in our content (we are still on a mission to eradicate all jargon from content), and we try to avoid using them when talking to clients.

But we thought it would be fun to take you through some of the frankly, often bizarre, and sometimes morbid terms we use and explain what they mean.

So here is our guide to copywriting jargon:

 

Above the fold – Traditionally this referred to broadsheet newspapers, with the top half of the page being above the fold, and therefore being the most prominent place for an article. It is now a term that is used in web design, referring to the part of the page visible without scrolling.

Blurb – The blurb is similar to a byline (see below). It is a brief introduction to the author that follows the headline.  If you look at our magazine In This Issue you will find some short text on each main article which details who wrote the piece and their experience.

Byline – The byline on a piece of content gives the name of the person who has written it. But it is not really about giving credit to the author. It is more of a tool which adds legitimacy to an article. For example, if you looked up the author of this post, you will see that I should know what I am talking about. When the byline is from maybe a senior leader in an organisation, or a particularly experienced writer, it can play a role in encouraging the reader to keep reading. The byline has evolved in recent times and will sometimes include a small bit of background on the author, or perhaps a Twitter handle so that readers can continue the conversation. 

Churnalism – Not a phrase you would hear at Thirty Seven. This refers to the practice of churning out content and articles rather than producing fresh, original and well-researched material.

House style – This refers to an organisation’s rules for writing, spelling and presenting content. For Thirty Seven, for example, one of the house rules is that numbers one to nine are always written out. In my experience, particularly from working in newspapers, any attempt to move away from house style is often met with profanities from editors and a stint in the naughty corner.

Greek – This is what we call the nonsensical text used when we are designing the layout for some content and the real copy is not yet available, even though it is actually Latin. You will probably have seen it at some point starting with ‘Lorem Ipsum’. This dummy text has more-or-less normal distribution of letters allowing the design to look complete so that it can be shared with a client. 

Gutter – No, not a reference to tabloid journalism. This refers to the white space in a magazine where two pages meet. It can also refer to the white space between text columns.

Hook – Hooks are a crucial component of effective content. These are the bits which keep your readers interested and engaged. They may be unusual facts, emotive examples, eye-catching statistics or perhaps posing a question the reader wants answered. Essentially, anything that encourages someone to keep reading the content is a hook.

Kerning – This may sound like some slightly obscure Winter Olympics sport, but kerning is actually the process of adjusting the process of space between letters.  I’m told by our designer that this is actually an ‘art’. But I write the words around here and I would describe it as a way of adding some polish to the design and improving legibility. Kerning can play a key role in eliminating orphans and widows, which sounds a lot more brutal than it actually is (more on those terms soon).

Kicker – This helpfully has a few different meanings when it comes to content. Traditionally, it has referred to a line above a headline which reveals something about the content – a sort of headline on the main headline.  More recently, it has also come to mean something surprising or poignant that is used to end a piece of content.  So if you hear us talking about a kicker, we could be discussing something at the beginning of a bit of content or something at the very end – helpful.

Orphan – One of the content world’s more morbid terms and something that is often confused with a ‘widow’. Even by those in the industry. It refers to a single word which appears at the top of a column or page. It is considered a villain of typography as it causes poor horizontal alignment at the top of a column or page. The key to remembering the difference is that an orphan is alone at the start, while a widow is alone at the end. Dark.

Pull quotes  A pull-quote is a strong, attention-grabbing quote, which has been, well, ‘pulled’ from the main text to add some visual flair to lengthy articles and make them more appealing to readers. Ideally, they are short, direct quotes, used to break up large sections of words and encourage the reader to keep going.

They are sometimes also called ‘callouts’ – but not by us.

Sidebar  This one more or less does what it says on the tin. It is a short article in a magazine or on a website sitting next to next to the main piece, which contains additional and supporting information  

Spike – Hopefully you won’t get to hear us use this phrase. It refers to a decision not to publish a piece of content or an article.

Standfirst – This is the term given to a brief introductory summary often used on longer forms of content. Its role is to give the reader an overview of what they will find in the rest of the blog or article and encourage them to invest their time in continuing to read. Generally, a standfirst will just be a few lines. Brevity is considered key.

Strapline – A strapline in print terms is a headline beneath the main headline, written in a smaller font, and used to give the reader further teaser information about the article.

Subheads – Subheads are the little headlines, usually one or two words long, that you will see scattered across longer forms of content. They serve a dual purpose. Firstly they break up the content making it appear less daunting for the time-pressed reader. Additionally, they make it easier for people to scan content to get a good idea of what it is about.

Teaser – This refers to a few lines of copy designed to encourage a reader to find the rest of the article. A printed magazine, for example, could include a teaser on the first few pages for a piece appearing further back in the publication.   

 

Tracking – Similar to kerning, but tracking is the process of adjusting the spacing throughout an entire word. Once kerning has been used to get the spacing right between each letter, tracking can be used to change the spacing equally between every letter at once. Clever hey? Still not an art though. (Stop picking fights with our designers Adam – Ed)

Widows – Another bleak term and something which is very similar to an orphan.  It refers to a short line – usually a single word - at the end of a paragraph or column. This is a design problem in printed content as it leaves too much white space between paragraphs.

WOB – Quite simple this one. It means white on black and refers to white text on a black or other coloured background.

 

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.

Aimee Hudson
2nd October 2017 - 8 mins read