How to Conduct an Interview for an Article
Wondering how to conduct an interview for an article, blog post, white paper, guide, or some other piece of marketing content you’ve been tasked to write as a freelance copywriter?
Well, step right up. You can watch the video below . . . or keep reading for my tips and tricks.
How interviews in Copywriting Land differ from journalistic interviews
You have much more space to breathe as a freelance copywriter conducting an interview with a subject matter expert, or SME as we say in the biz (because we marketing writers love our acronyms and jargon).
As a journalist, you’re often tasked with interviewing people who have no desire to talk to you. That can lead to lots of stress and tension.
Luckily, when you’re a freelance copywriter, the folks you interview will be invested in what you’re doing. You’ll likely be talking to someone on the client side who’s an expert in what they do. Maybe it’s a doctor for a urology practice. Or maybe it’s a lawyer who understands the ins and outs of DOT compliance. They want to see you succeed since it’s beneficial for them and their business. So they’re usually happy to help. You don’t need to worry about it being an antagonistic interview like you might have experienced as a journalist.
That said, you might still be nervous conducting interviews in this new setting as a marketing copywriter. This is normal, even for folks like me who’ve been at it a good long while. If you’re an introvert and you hate talking to people, conducting interviews via phone, Zoom, or in person can be challenging. Especially in person since that requires pants.
OK, so let’s get to some tips about how to conduct an interview for an article, blog post, white paper, or other pieces of marketing content.
Develop your questions in advance and send them to your interview subject ahead of time. You’re going to want to do some preliminary research based on the angle of your article, blog post, or white paper. Develop questions from there and send them to the subject matter expert (SME). Keep it reasonable, though. I wouldn’t send more than 15 questions via email. If you feel you’re going to need to ask a lot more questions than that, double-check to make sure the focus of your article is focused enough.
Set clear expectations. How will you be conducting the interview? Over the phone? Zoom? Skype? Should they have their cameras on or is audio-only OK? When scheduling, let people know how long you’ll need them. Plan for more time than you need. It will be a treat for them if you complete the interview early. Suddenly, they might have 10 or 15 extra minutes in their day.
Always send a calendar invite and make sure they accept it. I always follow up a calendar invite with an email alerting them that I just sent it. (Yeah, yeah, I know.) And I paste the info in the email, just in case. I might be going overboard. But it works for me. You do you.
Send a reminder the day before or the morning of. Provide the details, like a Zoom link or phone number and the list of questions again. If you don’t send the reminder, then don’t be surprised when someone flakes out.
Show up early to the interview. You’ll likely be conducting most interviews via phone or Zoom. Show up five minutes early. You’ll be able to troubleshoot any glitches. And if your interview subject is early, they won’t have to wait.
RECORD THE INTERVIEW. Be redundant and use a backup device. I use Zoom and the memo function on my phone. I always alert people that I’m recording and explain why (because I can never read my own handwriting). I tell them that I promise I won’t use anything they sat against them in a court of law. This almost always elicits chuckles and puts people at ease.
And while all of the above is true, the real reason you want to record is this: You will listen better and more deeply if you’re not worried about taking notes. I think you should still take some notes, as needed. But put your focus on your interview subject. Follow their directives. Yeah, you don’t want the interview to go off the rails, but allow yourself to follow tangents that seem relevant or interesting.
Ask follow-up questions or clarification, as needed. Your interview subjects will likely say something that surprises you or that you want to know a little more about. ALLOW for this. Ask those questions.
Resist the temptation to bring yourself into the interview. I’ve seen this mistake one too many times. It’s not about you. Shine the light on your subject. (Unless in rare instances your experience is highly relevant or directly related.)
PAUSE AND TAKE A DEEP BREATH. And when doing so, simply say, “Great, I’m just double-checking my questions here. Bear with me.” This allows for a little breather and for you to catch any questions you missed.
Lean into the silences and let your interview subjects fill them in. They will, too, because it’s human nature.
At the end of the interview, set clear expectations about what happens next. For example, let them know when they can expect to see the first draft. Remember, in Copywriting Land, your interview subject will review, edit, and approve the final copy. This is one of the biggest differences between journalism and copywriting. In Journalism Land, people don’t get to approve or change their quotes. What’s on the record is on the record. But in Copywriting Land, it’s a little different. So explain what happens next: “I’ll be sending you a draft in a week. You can make suggested edits in the margins or if we need to discuss more complex edits, we can schedule a call.” Let people know they are welcome to reach out to you via email if they forgot something or whatever.
Be classy and say thank you. Send a quick email thanking them for their time and reiterating the next steps.
How to conduct an interview for an article – best practices for asking questions
Ask open-ended questions. Remember, the goal is to get people talking.
If you need clarification, ask for it. Say something like, “Can you elaborate?” Or: “Can you provide an example?”
Don’t be afraid to ask someone to dumb something down. You can even ask them to do exactly that: “Hmm. I’m not quite sure I understand. Let’s pretend I’m ten. How would you explain this concept to me?”
A great question to end all interviews (or some variation):
- Is there anything you were expecting me to ask that I didn’t?
- If there’s one thing you’d want a reader to take away from this article, what would it be?
- Is there anything else you want to make sure I convey?
Remember, don’t fill in the silences. IT’S SO TEMPTING, I KNOW. But bite your tongue, especially when asking these closing questions. Let the interview subject fill in the blanks.
Final tips on how to conduct an interview for an article, blog post, white paper, or another piece of marketing content
Use a service like Rev.com or Temi.com to transcribe the interview. Either with a human or with their automated transcription, which is pretty good. It’ll make your life so much easier, trust me. Instead of spending valuable time transcribing the interview, you can focus on highlighting important messages, identifying great quotes, conducting additional research, and—oh yeah—writing awesome content. Plus, you’ll get to the writing part SO MUCH FASTER, which is good for the client and you.
Wondering how it’s good for you? Well, let’s say you charge $500 per blog post, and that includes initial research (keywords and topic), scheduling the interview with the subject matter expert, conducting a 30-minute interview, reviewing the transcript, writing the blog post, getting feedback from the client, and providing one round of revisions. If you don’t record and simply go by notes, I guarantee you’ll have overlooked something/forgotten something. And if you choose to transcribe the interview yourself, think of how much time that will take. I don’t care if you’re a good transcriber—it will take you at least 30 minutes (if you’re truly super fast) and more like an hour or more easily. What if you got that hour back for writing—or what if you get that hour back in your pocket?
Look at it this way: Let’s say it takes you five hours from start to finish to produce the final blog when you use a transcription service, but it takes you six to seven hours if you transcribe the interview yourself. You can do the math! Consider how much an hour of your time is worth.
Be kind to yourself, especially if you’re just starting out. And know that even if you end up doing this for years, some days will be better than others. Even now, I still have moments where I’m like, “Hmm. That wasn’t my best work.” It happens. The good news is that all that messy stuff happens in the background. In other words, the interview itself is not the final product—the piece of writing is. So even if it’s a little messy getting there, you can still make sure the final prose shines in the end.
Got other questions about how to conduct an interview for an article?
Get in touch and ask away. Always happy to help!