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David Meerman Scott's Tips for Scoring Big Interviews

David Meerman Scott doesn’t have a reporting background. But you might not know that considering the number of notable celebrities, political figures and business giants he’s interviewed over the years.

Interviews play an important role in many organizations' content marketing strategy. But many marketers don't feel trained to pursue a high-profile interview. Scott shares his tips and why you don’t need a journalism degree to have a conversation with a head of state or rock star.

What have been some of your favorite interviews?
I interviewed the Chief Information Officer of the United Kingdom, the CEO of General Motors. I had a very long and interesting conversation with the president of the Dominican Republic. Larry Flynt. Mickey Hart the drummer of the Grateful Dead.

Some of those have a background in business, some don’t. What is the common thread between these that makes them a great interview for someone trying to learn about marketing or sales?
I look for examples of either marketing, or examples of people who are doing a good job engaging the marketplace. I don’t want to use the examples that everybody’s used. Everybody wants to interview Zappos. I could care less about being the 250th person to interview the CEO of Zappos.

I’m always looking to have a conversation with someone who isn’t well known as a quote whore in the marketing world. And I use the term “quote whore” with all love and respect. That means thinking of surprising examples or really just keeping my eyes and ears open to opportunities.

When I had an opportunity to interview General Motors – it actually started because I wrote a negative blog about them. I ended up having a phone call with General Motors’ head of social media. And he invited me to Detroit. But it meant that I had to foot the bill to get myself there. I had a chance to visit one of the factories, got a chance to see the Chevy Volt. And they asked me, “Would you like to have 20 minutes with the CEO of the company.” And I said, “Well, yeah!”

You had to cover the costs, though. How do you measure the cost/benefit analysis of these interviews?
The way I make my money, and the way I feed my family, is by doing speaking gigs around the world. So in my case, if I’m able to have a personal meeting with a head of state of a country or the CEO of one of the 10 biggest companies in the United States…those are important things for my business. I can say here’s what General Motors does. I learned this because I met with their top executives. And here’s what the Grateful Dead does. Not only did I write the book, I’ve also met members of the Grateful Dead.

It’s important almost as a tool of my marketing. How good can you be if you’re just making stuff up and observing versus actually being able to engage with the people who are doing these things?

I don’t know any marketing person who has interviewed Larry Flynt. The reason I find him so interesting is because he is a master newsjacker. When Anthony Weiner was in trouble for his [Twitter] scandal, he resigned. Within in an hour of him resigning, Larry Flynt offered him a job through a blog post he wrote. As a result of that blog post, which was instantly indexed by Google, hundreds of mainstream media reporters saw that as they were doing their research and put that in the second or third paragraph of their stories. To me, that’s just brilliant way to get your name into the news cycle.

Like you, a lot of those reading this are not traditional reporters. I imagine a lot of them get nervous approaching a high profile person for an interview. What kind of advice would you give them?
First of all, I would say they only say no or yes. Who cares if they say no? There’s no reason you shouldn’t try.

The second thing I would say is, the more you can show what you do and how you do it, in order to give comfort to the person you plan to interview, the better. When I reach out to people I point them to my blog. If appropriate I might point them to some particular interviews on my blog so they can see how I handled someone else. I also will point them to one or several of my books on Amazon to show its gotten good reviews. That gives me some credibility.

Someone might say, “Oh, yeah, if you’re an author like David Meerman Scott, and you have some books out there, and you have a blog people comment on, it’s easy.” Everybody who is out there creating content can point to something they’ve done with pride that somebody who they are trying to interview – who might be a reach – will find compelling. I would say, just got for it.

david-meerman-scott

I’m pitched for interviews – I don’t know – 500 a year? I like the kind of pitch where someone clearly says, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I’d like to do, here are some examples of some other interviews I’ve done.” I’m much more likely to say yes to someone if they say they need 15 minutes than if they need an hour.

You probably have a different style than a traditional reporter. Do you think the style of the questioning is important?
My style is to make it very conversational. I have a few questions written down, but for the most part the way a person answers one question leads me to another question that I’ll ask. I don’t follow a strict script.

The other thing that’s really important is I’m not looking for the dirt. I’m not looking to embarrass anybody. I don’t recall ever doing an interview where my goal is to get someone to say something that they might regret later. I’m doing it to make the person I interview look good. I don’t do interviews to make the person look bad.

Do you let people review their interviews before you publish?
I think in my career I’ve had one or two people where I said that they could review it first. Otherwise, I just don’t do it. I just say, sorry, I’m just not doing the interview if you want to review it first. It’s not so much that I think they’ll change it. It’s just that I don’t want to have that extra step in the process. If I’m going to take the time to do an interview and print it up, I want to know with 100% certainty that I’m going to be able to put it up as soon as I want to.

Last question. What is the number one interview you still want to do?
I very much want to interview President Obama. The closest I got was the Twitter Town Hall. So I guess you could argue that I did ask him a question that he answered. But I haven’t had a sit down with him and I’d really like to do that.

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