A Journalist's Secrets to Interviewing Clients

It’s no secret that the digital marketing efforts from which Morey Publishing operates stem from the journalist roots of our staff. It’s not a secret because we like to brag about it.

If I'm being completely honest, transitioning from a full-time reporter to a marketing executive wasn't the easiest move. The basics of the job were the same: artfully stringing words together. But I questioned how to reconcile a meaningful work existence after I'd "gone corporate." Had I sold my soul? Could I still call myself a writer?

The short answers? No. And yes. But there are caveats. 

 I resolved not to become a “content developer,” but to remain a writer. This is more than semantics. I worked to put all of the knowledge and experience I'd gleaned from years past into practice in each piece of writing I put forth. As such, my team and I do not “produce content,” we tell stories. Each story comes from the same place: people. The clients that we work for stem from personal and professional relationships. The truth is that we take great pains to accept work from only a select crop of clients with whom our morals and principles align. And then we expertly craft their words and their vision into stories we can be proud of.

In a corporate environment where data rules, it’s sometimes easy to forget that for every product launched, for every marketing effort taken on, and for every benchmark targeted, there are people who live and breathe the nuts and bolts that make their company operate. It likely started with an idea that transformed into a passion. With a hope. And with a vision.

All of these convene to produce a story.

How do we get to the story? By doing what we do as journalists. We interview.

Here are some of the secrets to interviewing clients that I picked up from my hardcore journo days:  

1. Perfect the art of listening.

Interviewing clients is almost exactly the same as interviewing sources. Whether it’s a celebrity, a political insider, or a CEO, the most crucial - and difficult to master- element of any interview is the art of listening. 

In order to listen, really listen, you need to quiet not only your mouth (don’t interrupt!), but also your mind. This means that you need to stop preparing your follow up question while the other person is speaking.  

2. Be unprepared.

Read up on your client’s business. Be ready with a few important questions that Google can’t answer for you. But do not read from a list of questions.

When you have a concrete list of questions in front of you, you have closed off the conversation before you even started. Here’s a nugget of wisdom from the trenches of the reporter underworld: the most important information comes from the unscripted talk that happens in between questions. If your mind has already moved ahead to the next question, or is simply waiting for your interviewee to stop talking so that you can move on, you will miss out on the good stuff.

3. Embrace awkward silences.

We’ve become conditioned to fill up every empty moment with stimulation. The influx of constant noise has made us uncomfortable with quiet moments. Particularly in conversation, when pauses can be interpreted as awkward, especially in our New-York-time-is-money frame of mind, quietness can feel like failure. Yet, if you can learn to wait out a beat or three, chances are the person in front of you will offer up some gems of revelation.

4. Make it up as you go along.

Have a general outline of things you want to discuss, but create the bulk of your interview questions on the fly. They should come organically from the previous question. If you are really listening to what your interviewee is saying, follow up questions that ask the person to delve deeper into something interesting they mentioned will come naturally – and will unearth the most valuable information. If something said piques your interest, chances are it will strike a chord with your readers as well. You will be able to make connections to other parts of the conversation to reveal a cohesive story that will resonate.

In an age where words on a screen are considered content, harness the art of the interview to write stories.