A few years ago, a well-known hotel hired me to write an article that required interviewing two sources. The editor hadn’t provided any contact information—which isn’t uncommon in journalism—so I contacted the sources’ PR reps. I also tried the direct route to get in touch. Surprise, surprise: No one had any idea what I was talking about. It was awkward.
A few years later, I witnessed a similar sourcing snafu from a different perspective. As a managing editor for a tour operator, I passed along the contact information for a marine biologist the writer was supposed to interview. Unfortunately, the source was traveling and didn’t have internet access. The writer ended up sending her increasingly panicked emails—which annoyed the source, who was doing us a favor by participating in the first place.
Seamlessly integrating quotes and insights into your content can be tricky—you have to consider all the moving parts. That said, featuring experts can add journalistic flair and credibility to your content marketing stories.
“On the whole, sources [I’ve interviewed] have been happy with the work of ‘translation,’” said Michelle Seitzer, a writer and editor who works with healthcare brands. “By that, I mean taking their input and insights and crafting it into a piece of content.”
After lots of trial and error, here are some best practices I’ve learned during my years in the digital marketing world.
Step 1: Develop a system.
A casual approach to the sourcing process often results in ruffled feathers. Be sure to develop a set of operating principles that work for your particular team or client, and remember that different procedures will work better for different companies. Follow these guidelines whenever you need to connect a freelance writer with a source.
What’s more, you’ll want to ensure the writer understands your reasoning for including a particular source. Even if a writer has excellent bylines in impressive publications, they’re not immersed in your marketing strategy on a day-to-day basis. Let them know the details of your target audience, what you’re trying to accomplish with the interview, and how you want it to fit into the piece.
Step 2: Communicate with internal sources ahead of time.
Even internal sources at your client’s organization may not be familiar with your marketing goals. When reaching out to request an interview, you’ll want to explain how their participation benefits the brand, as well as why they should take time out of their busy workday to participate in the project. You’ll also want to familiarize them with the interview process and ask them what format works best for them. Shy sources might prefer answering questions via email, but you might warn them that writing out responses can be more time-consuming than a 20-minute call.
If you’re working with an internal source, you may also want to give their team leader or department a heads up. This is especially key if you plan to feature someone’s direct report in your content. Explain your project, why it’s important, and ask them what they can spare in terms of time and resources. You’ll be using some of their team’s energy to create content, so you’ll need their support.
Step 3: Stay involved in the interview scheduling process.
As evidenced by the miffed marine biologist I mentioned earlier, letting writers go rogue with source reach-out can have consequences. Writers who cut their teeth in the journalism world can sometimes go overboard in their quest to schedule an interview—even at the risk of alienating sources.
At a bare minimum, give the writer an email script to use. Or, even better, reach out to both the source and writer yourself to schedule the interview at an agreed-upon time. Include your contact information in case the interviewee has any questions or concerns.
Seitzer has even worked with some managing editors who participate in calls or video meetings to record them. This is a good tactic for difficult or sensitive subjects. “When it’s a tough topic and both the source and client liaison are ‘uninitiated,’ sometimes it’s helpful for the whole team—managing editor, writer, liaison, and source—to be on the interview call together,” she said.
Finally, if your source prefers a phone or Zoom call, ask the writer to submit interview questions ahead of time—this way, you can give your source some time to think through their answers before the call.
Step 4: Keep your editorial calendar flexible until all interviews are complete.
It seems like an easy task to assign to a writer: complete a quick interview with a specific source, then submit the draft on time. But keep in mind that source availability fluctuates, especially when everyone is in different time zones or has a busy schedule.
There’s no point in finalizing the publication date if the entire piece hinges upon an interview. Consider pushing back editorial deadlines until you know the source’s schedule. After completing the interview, you and the writer can agree upon a reasonable date for draft delivery—think anywhere from two days to a week, depending on the piece’s complexity.
Step 5: Let sources review quotes before the story goes live.
Finally, it’s a good idea to give your sources a heads up about how their insights will appear in the final piece. Editorial policies here differ from publication to publication—some may allow the source to view the entire story draft, while others will ask that writers simply confirm the raw facts/figures and direct quotes.
Regardless, don’t skip this critical step. After all, your source’s reputation—and ultimately, your client’s—is on the line.
Original reporting creates stronger content marketing
Although it’s not always a smooth process, including quotes and commentary from experts is an excellent way to add value to your content. Original reporting can also make for a richer learning experience for the writer.
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