An exclusive Authorlink interview

by Lisa Abeyta

June 2009

When I first started writing for pay, I didn’t stop to worry about such things as protocol, etiquette, or even if there was a right way to do things. And often my lack of worrying led to scoring a good interview with what some in the industry might consider an inaccessible authority figure. And while experience has taught me that it often works better to contact assistants and publicists and those who are hired to play intermediary for public figures, I’ve also never lost the willingness to just pick up the phone or send an email.

My first year working as a journalist profiling businesses, I was assigned a story about a national award that a local car dealer had won. I decided to get a quote from someone at the top of the food chain and started making phone calls. The next day I received a notice that Edsel B. Ford II had agreed to a phone interview. He was charming, polite, and very accessible, and my editor was thrilled with the national quote for a local story.

“If you are writing on speculation . . .do not ever offer something you can’t deliver. . .”

Here are some tips for setting up an interview for your article:

If you are writing on speculation (which means you do not have an editor or publication who has agreed to buy it), do not ever offer something you can’t deliver, such as promising a subject that the article will be in print. You can, however, let them know of potential markets you are shopping.

Try to find the angle that addresses why they will benefit from being your source. While a few people thrill at the sight of their name in print, most tend to be leery of being mis-quoted or mis-represented and will express some resistance. Acknowledge their concerns and offer ways to address them – you can offer to verify their quotes and pertinent facts, for example. But in the end, if you can show them why it is to their advantage to be your source, you’ll land the interview.

Use the internet to your advantage – there is no reason to stay local with the world just a click away. Most Google searches will turn up contact information on public figures. If not, visit their website or company website and try to find their press inquiries page. If none exists, pick up the phone and call.

Most CEO’s, Presidents, and major movers and shakers have an assistant. Going through that assistant is usually the most direct way to score an interview.

“. . . throw on some old-fashioned charm to position yourself at the top of the pile.”

Be friendly – if the person on the phone, whether it is an operator, assistant, or someone else, doesn’t like you, your request will end up in the back of the line. So throw on some old-fashioned charm to position yourself at the top of the pile.

If this is an assigned piece, and you are having difficulty getting in touch with specific people the editor wants to use, let the editor know immediately. Don’t wait until you are 6 hours from deadline, or you will have your editor scrambling and panicked – not exactly the working relationship you are hoping for. It is much better to let them know at the first sign of trouble, because most editors always have a Plan B (and C, D, and E).

Store contact information, and back it up. You never know when you might need to use a source again for another story, and you are way ahead of the game if you already have a very thick address book.

"Send a short email thanking your subject for their time . . ."

Send a short email thanking your subject for their time and for sharing their expertise.  Spreading good will is always a smart move, and, besides, it’s always more fun to play nice.

About Regular Contributor
Lisa Abeyta

Lisa Abeyta is an award-winning writer, columnist and writing teacher. Having sold hundreds of articles to national and local publications, she also provides copywriting, web-copy, and other writing services to private and corporate clients. She is active in several online writing communities, moderating forums and providing guest articles on freelance writing. Lisa also serves as a guest lecturer, speaker and teaches writing to both adults and students.