How to Make Your Experts More Marketable

How to Make Your Experts More Marketable

To find some instruction on marketing a brand’s experts, I spoke with Chris Gillespie, a writer in Contently’s network who often interviews SMEs. I have to constantly ask, “Can you give me an example of that?” or, “Can you give me a time when that happened?” And unfortunately, sometimes you have to ask that three or four times, because they’ll start to get specific, but then they’ll go back to a very conceptual place and start philosophizing about it. But I would struggle trying to put together the pieces [of a story] from these notes that are full of holes, and don’t really make a lot of sense. If you can get [SMEs and executives] to do work at the outset, the better job you’re going to do. And the more they can give me, the more work they can do, the more it’s going to be in their tone and their voice, and exactly what they want. In Jurassic Park, the way they made it all work was by plugging in the gaps with frog DNA. I write often about this idea that it requires time working and living in an industry before you can write well about it. pic.twitter.com/Vo9kNyeCrs — Jurassic World (@JurassicWorld) April 18, 2018 Have you ever talked with somebody about an article and then found that they’ve given you enough to write more than one piece? The thought process goes like this: they come across an idea, and they think, “Oh, we should work this into an article and that would be really useful.”And then they pad for two more bullet points and then send it in. I found the best way to start a conversation if you want to get a lot out of people, is ask, “What do you love about your job?” I do a lot of case studies for clients, and I’ll listen to the interviews that customer marketing teams usually do, and they start off with, “So, it looks like your company had 42 percent better email delivery because of our software.

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Internal experts are some of a brand’s biggest assets. Referred to by marketers as subject matter experts (SMEs), these professionals are armed with a wealth of knowledge that your audience might find fascinating, if only SMEs knew how to package their knowledge in a relatable way.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be a paradox; that’s where your content writers come in. Marketers are often called upon to interview SMEs and turn their expertise into good content—admittedly, that’s a little easier said than done.

To find some instruction on marketing a brand’s experts, I spoke with Chris Gillespie, a writer in Contently’s network who often interviews SMEs.

How do you go about getting the information you need from SMEs?

The trick for me is to edit heavily. These people are not thinking about how to write something, they’re talking however they normally talk. They get so conceptual. They’re so deep in the weeds with their particular field.

I have to constantly ask, “Can you give me an example of that?” or, “Can you give me a time when that happened?” And unfortunately, sometimes you have to ask that three or four times, because they’ll start to get specific, but then they’ll go back to a very conceptual place and start philosophizing about it.

You have to keep drawing it back to specifics, because those details are absolutely key to making the article readable, especially to a non-expert audience.

You want it to be a story.

Right. Earlier in my writing career, I expected people to give me whatever they had, and then I would go turn it into magic. But I would struggle trying to put together the pieces [of a story] from these notes that are full of holes, and don’t really make a lot of sense.

So how did you make sense of them?

If you can get [SMEs and executives] to do work at the outset, the better job you’re going to do. [Have them] do a stream of consciousness about everything they’re thinking, so that by the time you guys meet up, they already have a V1. They’ve gotten to think it through, and they’ve decided what they’re most excited about. I know that can be difficult, because they’re hiring a writer, so they expect you to work magic and they don’t want to have to do any work.

They always have an idea of what their voice and tone are, and they have no ability to communicate it, because they don’t write a lot. That’s tough for even a writer to say, “This is what the tone should be.” But they know it when they see it.

It can be confusing and time-consuming to interview them and then write something up, and then send it to them. They might say, “No, no. The tone is way off,” when they could have directed you in the beginning, but they didn’t know what to say.

Have them go read things in any major publication and give you articles they want to mimic.

Nice, I wouldn’t have thought of that. Have you ever had any pushback asking them to write something? And if so, how do you handle that?

Every now and then they definitely come in feeling a little flustered, because they haven’t been prepared for what the process is going to be like. They think they’re going to give me a couple of bullet points and I’ll go do everything, which I can do, but it may not end up being exactly what they want.

So what I’m looking for at the outset is some kind of an upfront contract. I want to educate them on how the process should go, because you want them to know why you’re pushing them. And the more they can give me, the more work they can do, the more it’s going to be in their tone and their voice, and exactly what they want. Right?

Right.

Sometimes it’s very hard for them to buy into that when they’re supposed to do an interview, but I always at least try. And then the up-front contract says that you give me a list of the articles that you want to mimic. If I produce something that is similar to these articles, you’re willing to be satisfied with it.

By doing that upfront verbal contract, by getting them to agree to it, they’ve locked themselves in to liking the piece you’ve created. If you defer too much to them and say, “No, no. Whatever you want, that’s fine. I’ll take these three…

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