"Joe Public is an a**e," even when you're helping him. So how do you get more from interviewees?


A guest post from Lauren Holden.

How to Interview Copywriting Clients

“So, tell me more about your inspiration for Plankton Portraits,” I asked the man responsible for bringing this intriguing exhibition to Lancaster’s Maritime Museum.

“Errr, plankton,” he swiftly replied, before adding, rather rudely: “What a stupid thing to ask!”.

Admittedly, I might have worded the question a little differently, but I was fairly new to my role as reporter at Morecambe’s The Visitor newspaper and I was still learning my trade. Just then, something my wise old dad told me during my years serving meals to the sometimes less-than-polite punters in a well-known restaurant chain popped into my head.

“Joe Public is an a**e.”

Even, it would seem, when you’re doing him a favour – and promoting the event he’s hoping will draw in a sizeable local crowd.

It’s the same when you’re interviewing copywriting clients for case studies, or getting to know a person so you can get to know their brand.

So, just how do you get the most out of an interviewee, a subject for a newspaper piece or a copywriting client?

Here’s my top five tips:

1. Keep Calm and Carry On

In light of that horrific Plankton-based interview, I’d say this: remain thick-skinned.

I wanted nothing more than to offer a similarly rude retort, or worse, slam down the phone. Unluckily for me, my deadline was looming and the piece still needed writing.

Through gritted teeth, I persevered with the interview, filed the piece of copy and saw it through to publication. Instead, I vowed never to volunteer to give ‘Plankton Pete’, shall we call him, another column inch.

The fact is, as a copywriter it’s not always that easy. Projects can go on for months and briefs can be a little more rigid. The thing here is to remember that the customer – or client – has a clear idea of what they’re looking for.

Indulge them, within reason.

2. Listen

It may go without saying, but so often copywriters can be tempted to steer the interview in a certain way. If the interviewee is confident chatting away unprompted, let them.

Constantly chipping in can throw someone off course. And you’ll learn so much more, about the interviewee and the brand you’re profiling, if you keep things casual – even if it means veering away from some of your set questions.

3. Be Prepared

Sure, you can’t often beat a good old pen and paper for jotting down important facts. But make sure you take a few means of recording the interview, whether you do it the old fashioned way with a reporter’s notebook and pencil, or via a top of the range Dictaphone.

Often, how comfortable the interviewee is can dictate the flow of the interview.

So whip out your recording device if they’re talking at length, while jotting down some key facts to save time later.

4. Keep On Topic

Of course, if the client is comfortable telling witty anecdotes which may complement the brand and the piece you’re writing, who are you to interrupt? But unless it serves to put an otherwise nervous interviewee at ease, stick to the topic in question.

Move onto general team news and office chit chat later. Then, if your interview is swiftly cut short, you’ve at least managed to glean what you initially intended.

5. Do Your Research

Often, your client may be nervous, especially if it’s a lower-level staff member who’s been volunteered to provide you with the information you’re looking for.

But do be aware that failure to prepare means you really are preparing to fail.

Conduct thorough research on the brand; you’ll have a great list of questions to ensure you really get the most out of the client to help guide the interview in the direction they’re looking for.

A former newspaper journalist, Lauren Holden is a full-time copywriter and freelance writer who has worked with a variety of clients, from cosmetics companies to TV shopping channels. She produces sales-led copy for a range of websites. Head to www.laurenholden.co.uk for more details.

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