There are some things you must get out of every interview.
There is no doubt that you want to get a great quote, pull out an amazing insight or get the person you're covering to say something that they have never said before (I smell exclusive!), but none of that matters if you make a mistake when it comes to the raw facts about who you are featuring. Over the course of my career, I've had the pleasure of being on both sides of the content creation fence: some days I am the person conducting the interview, and on other days, I am the subject matter. I've had countless instances where my name is spelled wrong, my title is wrong, the company I work for is not written correctly or they explain my role inaccurately. In fact, there have been multiple instances where multiple inaccuracies were present. Yes, the old adage, "the only bad press is an obituary," still very much rings true, but all credibility is lost if you don't get the basics right.
Here are the 10 questions that every content creator must ask their subject:
- How do you spell your name? While it might seem simple enough, there are times when a person would prefer to see their full name in print (along with it being spelled correctly). Think of Tony Robbins. I've often seen his name published as, Anthony Robbins. I'm sure he has a preference and he would probably appreciate being asked how he would best like to be represented.
- What is your official title? I can't tell you how often I am wrongfully called the "founder" of Twist Image. I'm the President here. We are four equal partners and I was not a founder (I actually joined the company after it was already in existence). Also, people often change titles and forget to update their LinkedIn profile, etc...
- Are you the founder of the company? Tying this into the last question, people often use titles to downplay their role within the organization. Make sure to prod a little to ensure accuracy. I've seen many VPs of Marketing who are also the founder, or they sit on the board of directors as well. These are all important distinctions that will give your content more credibility.
- How do you spell your company name? Not as simple as you may think. Our company is called, Twist Image. We've been called Twist (wrong!), TwistImage (wrong!), Twisted Image (wrong!... but I like the subtle link to Twisted Sister). On top of that, many newer companies use intercaps (LinkedIn) and it's important to know how they prefer to be labeled.
- How do you describe your company? We've been called a Social Media company (wrong!), an advertising agency (wrong! but not completely inaccurate). Why not just ask instead of guessing? For the record, we currently describe ourselves as a digital marketing and communications agency.
- Where is your company based? Where a company is incorporated may be different from where they are headquartered, and where they are headquartered may not be where they really operate out of, and it gets more complex when you have virtual offices, etc... While we started our company in Montreal and then opened an office in Toronto, we like to define ourselves as a national organization with offices in Toronto and Montreal. Actually we like to say that we have one office with a very long corridor. It miffs a lot of our team members when the media prints "Montreal-based, Twist Image" in a newspaper or newspaper... and I understand why.
- Where can people connect with you? Blog, website, Twitter, Facebook personal page, Facebook page, Google +, LinkedIn? You never know, so linking to a corporate management profile might not be the best solution. By asking, you're also giving them one tiny moment to promote an area that they feel best represents their brand.
- Is there any other info that other media often get wrong? While this question is akin to opening a can of worms, it's a great way to know and understand what errors typically happen around a brand. Who knows, it may even open up another level to the conversation taking place. Worse comes to worst, at least you know your media channel will get it all right.
- Based on our topics of conversation, is there any other individuals that you think I should speak to? This is a great way to get validation from either someone else in the organization or an outside source (it could be a customer or industry analyst). On a personal level, these types of questions have allowed me to interview a myriad of new and interesting people that I would have never been able to meet, had I not been able to email these individuals and say, "I just spoke to so and so, and they recommended we connect to discuss [insert your topic here]."
- Did I forget anything? This is one of the oldest journalism tricks in the book, and it's the easiest way to spot the recently-minted journalism degree graduate, but if you're not sure... ask it. It's better to cover all of your bases than lack credibility when the piece gets published.
And one more thing...
Record everything. If you're typing or taking notes while the person is speaking, you're not focused on them, their content or the conversation. Don't focus on the end product. You can record everything from Skype (I use Audio Hijack Pro) to a conversation over lunch (while some use portable digital studios like the Zoom H2, I've had great results with the HT Professional Recorder app for the iPhone). Record your conversations (audio, video, whatever) and focus on your conversations. This way you can go back later and pull out the gold.
What do you think are some of the basic questions that content creators should be asking?