Dear WordCount: What is the current expectation for replies to emails? I publish a site for emerging filmmakers that gets decent traffic. I run interviews with filmmakers that I do via email. Some people never respond to my initial email. I am not inviting the biggies in the industry, going through reps and PR people. I typically find a subject on LinkedIn, often someone I am connected with, and contact them directly. If someone agrees to an interview I send a handful of questions, with no specific deadline. Rarely does anyone acknowledge receiving the questions, and often weeks go by and I don’t hear back from them. When I send a reminder, some eventually respond but others never do. I understand someone might not want to do an interview, or are busy and need time. What I don’t understand is why so few people respond to my messages. When I worked in the corporate world, everyone responded to emails, even just to say thanks for receiving a message or a forwarded article. Have practices changed so much that emails get totally ignored? — Bob
What a great idea to feature interviews on your website – people love to read about their peers.
There are a number of reasons why your requests for email interviews aren’t as successful as you’d like them to be. Let’s look at the issues one by one:
As you’ve come to realize, times have changed. People do not respond to email as quickly as they used to. Part of the reason is overload — too much coming in too quickly. It’s easy to ignore everything but the most urgent messages.
Another reason: When email was the new kid on the block, it was the fastest means of communication in and outside of work. But it’s been replaced by text messages, Facebook, Twitter and other, newer means of electronic communications that are way faster. Today, people are likely to check Facebook or Twitter before checking email, especially if they’ve grown up with the former and not the latter. If your email requests are meeting with radio silence, use other methods to reach out.
That brings up another point. You said you’re using LinkedIn to connect with people. If you’re approaching people in your LinkedIn inner circle, great. If you’re approaching people who don’t know you, your success rate at interesting people in doing an interview might not be as good. You have to sell them on why its in their best interest to do an interview. Keep reading for how to do that.
The Value Proposition
Think about who you’re asking to reply to your queries: emerging filmmakers. They’re working on movies, trying to get money to get movies made, probably working other jobs to pay rent. It’s easy to see why they’d let non-essentials like interview requests slip. Maybe you’re already doing this, but you need to explain why it’s worth it to set aside a few minutes of their very precious time to respond to your query. You need to explain your value proposition, or what’s in it for them. What will they gain by cooperating with you?
One way to do this is to include information about your website in your initial request for an interview. It doesn’t have to be long, just some quick facts about how long the site’s been around, what the page views and subscribers numbers are, and any recognition you’ve received. Share links to profiles of other filmmakers they might recognize to show them they’ll be in good company. Have any of the filmmakers featured on your site picked up new collaborators or sponsors as a result? Let them know. In other words, explain what’s in it for them. If a Q&A on your site could further their career or help them promote their next movie, it’s a much easier sell.
The Pros and Cons of Email Interviews
There’s another reason why your well-intended efforts might be going astray. You’re relying on email to do interviews. While it’s easy for you to put together a list of questions, it’s not easy for the person who has to answer them. I say this as someone who has been on both sides of this equation many times. Even if you spend a lot of time crafting just the right question, how long does that take: 15 minutes, or 30 at the very most? Compare that with how long it takes to answer your questions, possibly double or triple the time you’re spending. If that’s the case, it’s easy to see why a filmmaker who’s already starved for time would put it off.
There are a few ways to fix this. Limit the number of questions you ask. When I’ve done email interviews for the publications I write for, I keep it to 5 or 6. Let your interview subjects know that they don’t have to write a novel for each answer, a sentence or two for each would suffice.
It would be even better to chuck email interviews and do phone interviews instead. Let the person know up front that all you need is 15, 20 or 30 minutes. You could still send them questions in advance. But if you do a phone interview, they don’t have to spend the time and mental energy commiting their thoughts to writing, check spelling, grammar, etc. The added benefit of doing phone interviews is you can ask questions on the fly, and get a better sense of who the person is.
Why Deadlines Matter
One last thought. You said when someone agrees to an interview, you send them questions “with no specific deadline.” That’s a no-no. Always include a deadline. Are there specific days of the week or month when you run interviews? Let them know that, and give them a specific date when you’d like to run their Q&A. That way it’s not just a nebulous request, but an action you’re asking them to take by a certain time.
I’d also suggest planning interviews weeks, if not months in advance, and sending out more requests for interviews than you actually need, so you’re covered if and when people decline. If you need four Q&As for a month, send eight. Use an editorial calendar — WordPress has a great editorial calendar plug-in — to put interview dates on the calendar.
With a few changes in tactics and some addition planning, you should see a better success rate. Be sure to check in and let me know how it goes.
Dear WordCount is a weekly advice column answering your questions about writing, blogging and running a freelance business. Got a question? Send it to email@example.com.
[Flickr photo by digitpedia]