Your coworker is a subject matter expert (SME) with valuable insight on your company’s latest white paper topic, yet the outside writer you hired has been trying to track her down for weeks, to no avail. She insists she doesn’t have time for the 20-minute interview. How can you make content creation appealing to team members who are more focused on the technical aspect of business?
1. Have higher-ups make the introductions.
Whether it’s an internal SME or a client you’re seeking cooperation from, they’re more likely to respond when the directive comes from the C-suite.
“As a third-party writer I don’t have any clout,” says Graham, who adds that he’s had case-study subjects ignore him because his client didn’t get their OK upfront. The initial brainstorming meeting for content should involve higher-ups deciding whom the writer should speak with.
Graham says asking for an hour of a source’s time is difficult: “That’s no small thing but because it’s been ‘blessed’ by their supervisor and it’s a corporate priority, they take it seriously,” he says.
2. Be transparent about the process.
Many SMEs are apprehensive about being interviewed because they’re afraid of being quoted out of context or generally misrepresented. “Most people, unless they’re named as a PR contact for their business, haven’t been interviewed very much,” explains Graham. “Maybe they talked to a local newspaper reporter for half an hour and weren’t even quoted or got one silly little quote.”
Graham reassures interviewees that he’s not looking for an exposé; he’s just interested in learning more about how their solution help customers. “Always say, ‘You’ll have a chance to look this over before it publishes,’ ” he adds.
3. Respect their time.
A little sensitivity can go a long way. Graham says sources love to hear these five words: I won’t waste your time. “There is such a thing as a stupid question,” says Graham, who has interviewed more than 3,000 people and worked as a journalist. “Don’t ask vague, all-purpose questions that could be answered by looking at the company’s website.”
When setting up the interview, writers should state how much time they’ll need — perhaps starting with a 20-minute conversation, then doing a longer follow-up if necessary. During the call, Graham warns sources when they’re approaching the allotted time, allowing them to decide if they want to continue.
If you’re asking colleagues to contribute, say, an article for a newsletter, don’t burden them with unattainable deadlines. “I’ve found that when a company starts to launch a newsletter, they’ll get lots of people submitting ideas,” says Graham, adding that that enthusiasm peters out over time. Either space out the frequency of publication or schedule assignments so that each individual contributes once or twice a month.
4. Make it as painless as possible.
Another option for newsletter contributions is having a ghostwriter interview the SME, draft the article then put the expert’s byline on it. When developing content for a company, Graham doesn’t care whose name goes on it: “Why not be generous about who’s getting the byline?”
He has found that this tactic works well some people are apprehensive about writing, but most are willing to talk on the phone. “I’ll say, ‘Let’s just make a Top 10 list,” he explains, citing “reasons why you should buy” and “dangers before you sign on the dotted line” as potential list topics.
Graham’s advice? “Don’t call it writing or developing content. Just say, “Let’s talk about the top points.’ ”