|I prefer to email my potential interview subjects.|
Image by Stuart Miles
Now that you've chosen your interview subjects, you need to somehow convince them that they are eager to speak to you. This can be a little bit tricky, but a little honesty and flattery go a long way. The main key here is to let your potential interviewee know that you have a problem and they are the only ones who can help you solve it. This may or may not be true, but if you can get them to feel like they are the gatekeepers of knowledge, you will pique their interest and stroke their ego a bit at the same time. And don't we all want to be special?
1. I like to approach a potential interviewee via email. It isn't intrusive and they are free to get back to me at their convenience. The other benefit to this is that I can carefully craft exactly what I want to say and not have to worry about getting caught off-guard. A possible drawback to this method is that it can be slightly impersonal, but I think that as long as you aren't sending a form letter, you should be just fine. We are all pretty comfortable with email at this point, after all, and I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. If you don't hear back within a few days, though, I do recommend a followup phone call.
2. Explain your problem. Tell your subject exactly what your article is going to be about and why they have such a unique viewpoint. Going back to my article example, the director of special education is one of the people who actually makes the policies (following legal guidelines, of course). She also sits in on the IEP meetings for many of the kids entering secondary schools, so by this point, she's seen it all. She really is in a unique position -- she clearly wants to do right by these kids, but she has to do so while adhering to the guidelines. The professional advocate has sat in on possibly hundreds of these meetings, but has a completely different perspective than the school district. I want to capture that, and I want to let her know that she is going to be the counterpoint in this article.
3. Hand out a touch of flattery. We all like to know that we are important. If you've met the person you are interviewing, remind them of that and point out something positive about them. I met the director of special education at my son's last IEP review and I was impressed by how concerned she seemed to be about the situation and how dedicated she seemed to finding solutions, so I told her that. I have worked with the advocate and learned a ton from her about working within the system, so I told her that. Nothing untrue, and letting your subject know his or her value can go a long way.
4. Check your tone. Use a respectful tone, regardless of how well you know your subject. Your subject may need to request permission from a higher-up to grant you the interview, especially if they work for a large company or agency. If your email gets forwarded up to a boss or media representative, you need to consider how they will receive it. I don't think you'll get approval for "Hey man, I'm gonna write an article about how to screw over the district rofl!!! You in?????? See ya later, you up for drinks???" Keep it professional.