I’ve been a freelance writer for the AV trade press since 2002 and have interviewed hundreds of people in that time. When I first started out, I thought I knew what to expect from interviewees. After all, I had spent the previous years as a PR rep preparing my clients for these types of interviews. There are fact sheets and writer bios and all types of background info zapped from one inbox to the other, right? Maybe….
Whether by choice or by chance, it seems that execs, engineers, and even marketing folks jump on the phone without a clear idea as to why we’re talking. I don’t dare accuse anyone of showing up unprepared; only that sometimes it really feels that way from this side of the call. As a result, I’ve put together some tips on giving a good interview to the trade press:
(1) Know the interview topic and be prepared to discuss it
This seems basic but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set up an interview via the PR or marketing department only to have the interviewee ask me “So, what are we talking about today?” Most likely I’ve had this conversation ad nauseum with the PR rep, who wants to make sure they understand what I’m looking for and to match me with the right person. Asking the “what are we talking about” question tells me that either this person didn’t read his or her prep email or he/she never got one. Perception is reality, and at that moment I’m perceiving that this interview is a waste of time.
(2) Let me get a word in edgewise
The opposite of the “what are we talking about” situation is one where the interviewee is so over-prepared, it’s like getting an earful of verbal buckshot. Sounds painful? Well, it is. Anyone who writes for a living knows that a certain amount of interview prep is done by the PR team before the call. It’s expected and often appreciated. However, when the interviewee is instructed to hit every talking point no matter what, here’s where we part ways.
Let the writer take the lead in asking questions. Most writers get paid by the word, not by the hour, so efficiency is very important to us. Answer my questions and then, at the end of the call, either ask if I have a few moments for some related points or have them emailed to me. Understanding that my time is limited goes a long way in making it onto my list for repeat interviews in the future.
(3) Cut the fluffy verbiage and be concise
There are certain words/phrases that should never, ever be uttered in an interview. “Best of breed, state-of-the-art technology solution” should not be the answer to why your new product is important to the market. If that’s the best answer your company has, then your organization has deeper problems than giving bad interviews.
Instead, give me some context of the competition (yes, it’s okay to mention them) and tell me why you are better/faster/stronger than them without the use of fluffy descriptors. I’m looking for information; not judging a popularity contest.
(4) Understand the publication process
Giving a good interview doesn’t end when the interviewee hangs up the phone. Understand that once a writer has completed interviews, there is an entire process of writing, editing, and sometimes rewriting that goes on before the piece is finished. Although the writer’s name is on the byline, often there are anywhere from 1-4 people who are also making edits to the piece.
I understand the curiosity to see the piece before it’s published. PR people also want to make sure that the writer is representing their company accurately. As a result, I often get the question, “We’ll get to see a draft of this article, right?” Well, no. Fact-checking quotes is essential, but no interviewee ever gets the right to approve an article. Only an editor can kill a piece and no amount of chest thumping or fist shaking can change that fact.
(5) Ask for the article link only if it’s not publicly available
I’ve gotten terse messages from past interviewees who were aghast that I didn’t send them a link the moment a piece was published. The assumption is that I’m paying attention to such things when really I’m working my tail off to make a living in this business. I will do that kind of follow-up only if I have time. Ask for the article link only if it’s not available via the magazine’s site or via a Google search and I’ll be glad to help you get it.