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How to land expert interviews

A considered approach will help land experts to interview as part of your studies.

Around 500 students in the UK are looking to land expert interviews with public relations practitioners for their dissertations. Add vocational qualifications, international markets and related topics, and that number gets large very quickly.

Practitioners can become bombarded and overwhelmed with requests from students. Here are 12 practical suggestions for finding expert practitioners and making smart approaches. I work in public relations but they can be applied to any industry or profession.

If you’re a teacher I’d be grateful if you’d share this blog with your students; if you’re a practitioner I’d appreciate any further comments about what makes a good pitch.

#1 Area of expertise

Approach practitioners that have expertise in the area of practice that you want to explore. It’s an obvious point but students frequently play a numbers game. At best you’ll be bounced; at worst you’ll be ignored.

#2 Purpose

Demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in your area of research and a determination to move practice forward. Enthusiasm is infectious.

#3 Knowledge of existing body of work

If someone has written previously on a topic, read around their work and use it as an original source. It’s frustrating to cover old ground. I’ll likely refer you to my blog or books.

#4 Time investment

You’re asking practitioners to give their time in a voluntary capacity, to help you with your dissertation. Be prepared to work around a practitioner’s workload and personal time.

#5 Timeframe

There’s a related point. Public relations practitioners are generally a hard working bunch and often receive multiple approaches. Start as soon as possible and set a realistic timeframe for interviews.

#6 Lists

Influencer and ranking lists published by media such as PRWeek and Holmes Report are a lazy tool. Likewise listings of voluntary officials at professional organisations such as the CIPR or PRCA. Anybody that appears on a list will receive multiple approaches each year.

#7 Disclosure and oversight

Students frequently seek commercial data or opinion on sensitive topics. Please make it clear how you plan to use the information you receive; whether it will be anonymised; and if you’re prepared to provide any opportunity for review.

#8 Quality of pitch

Apply the thought and care that you’d apply to a job application to pitches to potential experts. Letters and a follow up phone call will cut through were emails fail. Smart students use dissertation interviews as a means of building relationships in the workplace.

#9 Medium

Students typically email a list of questions and ask for written responses. It’s a lousy form of workflow. Offer to travel and meet with experts. It’ll result in a better interview and you’ll start to build a relationship. Alternatively be open to people recording an interview on their mobile phone and sending you the audio file.

#10 Networks

Treat your dissertation as a public relations planning exercise. Use virtual networks and communities such a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; and physical networks such as the CIPR and PRCA to identify potential experts, and build relationships.

#11 Media

Share information about your project via a blog, LinkedIn and Twitter. In this way you’ll build a community around your dissertation. It demonstrates commitment, makes introductions easy, and in exceptional situations may result in practitioners approaching you directly.

#12 Two-way street

If someone has taken the time to help with interviews they will have a genuine and vested interest in your final work. Make sure you send a copy with a thank you note. It’s another opportunity to build a long term relationship.

We’re all students.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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