Several years ago I was in charge of advisor conference communications for a large financial services company. One of the most important elements-which had to be done on a very tight timeline-was a video highlighting the top-performing managing general agents and financial advisors who would be recognized at the spring recognition conference. There were nine interviews across the country that had to be taped in a matter of about three-and-a-half weeks.
At the time I was new in the communications role and had never worked with the in-house video team before. I was aghast to learn that in years past, they’d simply showed up at an advisor’s office with camera and lights. They didn’t know what they were going to ask, and neither did the advisor. This is a situation that can make both parties uncomfortable, and which can yield a dud from what otherwise might have been a great interview.
Introducing the pre-interview
In broadcast current affairs, pre-interviews are standard practice. Having trained in broadcast journalism and once worked on a radio current affairs program, the only way I knew how to do it was with the pre-interview. It ensures your video crew-whether it’s one person or a three-person team (camera, lights and sound) will get the best sound bites, or clips, as they can. If you’re producing any kind of video that involves one-on-one interviews with clients, customers, executives or employees, pre-interviews are a must for telling your brand story properly.
The pre-interview is exactly that: essentially the same interview the video team will do on camera. Except it’s done on the phone, in advance of the scheduled taping. You need to make sure you have the resources on your communication team to do this right. Assign pre-interviews to a junior member of the team, for example. If you don’t have enough internal resources, you can hire an outsource for the project. It really does require someone with a journalism background who knows how to ask the right, and interesting questions.
If you have several interviews to do and you have a full in-house communications team, put one specialist in charge of the project. He or she can then work with colleagues. In my case, I did all the interviews myself the first time. I almost went bonkers in the short time frame. Lesson learned. The next time I managed a team of communication specialists. I took on three pre-interviews myself and assigned three each to other team members. It not only eased the work load, but also made things much more efficient in terms of getting all the pre-interviews done in the short time frame.
What pre-interviews do
The pre-interview accomplishes three things:
It prepares both the video producer (who is often the person doing the interviews to tape) and the interviewee for the interview. It creates a comfort level, because everybody knows the focus of the interview and what questions will be asked (more on this in a minute).
In situations where you have two or three possible interviewees for the subject at hand, it helps you determine whether the person you’re talking with is the best person for the video team to interview. If, when you’re talking to the person on the phone, he or she seems really uncomfortable, or you’re getting mostly one-word answers, that tells you to thank them for their time and move on to your next source.
It saves the video crew time. They’re in, they get set up, tape the interview and they’re out. Nobody’s time is wasted.
Developing the questions
The pre-interview helps you develop a focus statement and a q-line (series of questions) to pass on to the video producer. The first thing you have to do of course, is jot down all the questions you can think of for the person. The who, what, why, when, where and how are all essential. But listen to the person. Don’t get so focused on the questions you want to ask that you miss an interesting point. If they make an interesting point, follow-up on it with an unplanned question. You’d be surprised at the insights you can uncover. Sometimes all it takes is, “Could you give me an example of that?”, or “That’s really interesting. Could you tell me a bit more about that?”. Doing this can lead you off on whole new tangents-I once had a pre-interview go on for another interesting, insightful 45 minutes by asking that simple question.
Closing the pre-interview
Okay, let’s assume you’re wrapping up your pre-interview. First, of course, you thank the person for their time. Then it’s really important to explain that when the video crew arrives on the set day, they’re going to be asking pretty much exactly the same questions as you’ve just covered. (Remind the interviewee that the producer might have some additional questions of his or her own, but the pre-interview should mostly be a carbon copy of the telephone pre-interview.) This is very important especially if the person has never done a video interview before. Re-assuring them they’re going to be talking about the same things-just with a different person-makes your interviewee feel comfortable. And they more comfortable they are, the better the taped interview will be. You want them to enjoy the experience.
A word of caution here. Sometimes busy professionals would rather you email them the questions and let them respond. That’s not a good idea for a video pre-interview. Doing a telephone interview is vital. Why? Because it helps you get a sense of what the person’s like and how they’re likely to respond/act when the video crew shows up. Sometimes you gently have to explain that you really need to talk with them for the purpose at hand.
Writing it up for the video crew
Which brings me to the all-important next step: writing up the focus, q-line and background document for the video producer.
The focus statement is the most important part of this prep document for the video team. Here’s what I mean by “focus statement.” Let’s say the scenario is the one I mentioned off the top-interviewing top performers who are being recognized. The focus statement is easy: “John Doe is being recognized at the annual conference because he did $3 million in business last year.”
Questions then can cover the gamut from, “Why did you become an advisor?”; to “What qualities does a person have to have to be a financial advisor?”; to, “This is the fourth year in a row you’ve done this kind of thing and are being recognized for it-how does that make you feel?”. Or, “What’s your secret to doing these record volumes every year?”.
The first question in your prep document is the all-important one. Here’s an example of how to set up the interview doc for the video team:
FOCUS: John Doe is being recognized at the annual conference because he did $3 million in business last year.
Q. 1: This is the fourth year in a row you’ve done this-what’s your secret?
And so on.
You’ll want to have the video team do an interview that lasts about five to 10 minutes-so a list of 12-15 questions usually covers that.
The crucial backgrounder
Once you’ve written up the focus and list of questions, it’s time to do the “backgrounder” section. This is vital, because it helps the video producer know how to approach questions, and the person in general. Make your backgrounders thorough. The more thorough they are, the more prepared your video team will be. (The assumption here is that you took thorough notes when you were doing the pre-interview. If you taped the conversation, you’ll have to spend extra time transcribing.)
The backgrounder should include not only the basics about the person (how long they’ve been doing what they do, etc.), but also how they seemed on the phone (nervous, etc.), and how they reacted to certain questions. That’s why you really need to listen to the person when you’re doing the telephone pre-interview, so you can note your insights in the backgrounder document.
Getting great stuff on tape
Then you email the document to your video producer, and the team’s all set. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll get a great interview on tape. In my case, I kept getting glib emails from the producer after every interview: “I love you,”… “I love you even more,… ”
I simply did what I was trained to do. What they did was come away with much better advisor interviews on tape than they’d previously gotten by just showing up and firing from the hip. Do pre-interviews every time, and you’ll get great stuff on tape, too. They’ll help you tell a brand story that will resonate with, and engage, your audiences.