Chances are good that you have lots of thought leaders within your company that have a wealth of great stories and knowledge to help make your content marketing efforts soar. Thought leaders can be engineers, product managers, product marketers or anyone who works with customers (see more ideas here). 

However, if you ask a thought leader to provide content and to write it themselves, it will rarely get done. They will always have priorities that are higher than helping marketing. Even if they have good intentions, it is difficult for them to clear their schedule to have a continuous block of time to write. And if you do get content, it likely isn’t in a format ready for the target audience. Instead of waiting for a miracle, here is a simple way to extract content from these thought leaders without causing pain for you or for them.

Four steps to generating topics and preparing for interviews

Step 1: Gather ideas

To get started, have a brainstorm session with one or multiple thought leaders. For difficult to schedule individuals, provide food and do this over a breakfast or lunch. During the session, ask them what they think is cool that they are doing, a cool thing happening in the market, a new trend, etc. If the topic is cool to your thought leader, chances are good it will be cool to your target audience too. 

Step 2: Assign experts and prioritize ideas

Make a list of all of these ideas and list the name of the thought leader next to each idea that originated the idea. Ask the thought leaders for a 5 minute review of the document to add any thought leaders that have expertise on the topic and new topics if they think of some. Take this list back to your marketing team and prioritize it based on your campaigns or content marketing calendar. 

Step 3: Schedule interviews

Next start scheduling interviews with appropriate thought leaders. Group interviews are fine as long as everyone in the meeting has input on the topic(s) being covered. When scheduling the meeting, clearly state the following:

  • The purpose – to gather their knowledge on the topic. You can provide more than one topic if you have enough time to cover them. Tip: It takes about 30 minutes to gather enough content for an 800+ word blog post.
  • The types of questions that will be asked – You are welcome to provide the exact questions or keep it casual and brief.
  • How this info will be used – explain that it will be used in a blog post (or other asset). Tell them where it will be published and stress that they will get to review it before it is published. This is key to ensuring they will be comfortable!
  • Meeting will be recorded – explain this will just be for the writer’s use to enhance the notes. 

Step 4: Research the topics

The last and most important step before the meeting is to do your homework! If these are topics you know nothing about, do the research to familiarize yourself with the general concepts. If it is an internal project, ask for references. Bottom line – be as familiar as possible so that you can tailor the questions, take intelligent notes, and know when to dive deeper during the interview.

Efficiently interviewing thought leaders

At the start of each interview, repeat the information from the meeting notice about the purpose and use of information. Make sure you answer any questions about the process or about confidentiality of the information. Many thought leaders are happy to help, but worried that marketing will publish something that isn’t meant to be public information. Reassure them that they can review and give to their supervisor to review as well to ensure there are no issues.

During the interview you’ll want to cover the following questions. Add specifics to these questions or change them as appropriate for the topic. 

  • What about this is cool?
  • What was going on before this? 
  • What was the pain felt by the people involved?
  • What happened that forced a change?
  • Change is never easy, what were the challenges faced?
  • How were those challenges overcome?
  • What benefits resulted from the change? (Probe if there are different groups that were impacted and had different benefits.)
  • What lessons were learned?
  • What is the plan for the future?

Take notes and record the session to ensure you are getting the information and making it as easy as possible on the thought leader. If you can cover more than one topic in a session without exhausting your thought leader — go for it!

Turning notes into a strong and clear story

Before you get frustrated that you have a few pages of notes and a ton more work to do in order to get a story, follow this easy template to quickly turn your jumbled notes into an article. Simply take the answers to the questions and divide them into paragraphs as shown below. Start just by organizing the notes, then turn them into paragraphs to tell the story.

Opening paragraph: The story hook (what is cool) and the background info

  • What about this is cool?
  • What was going on before this? 

Body paragraph 1: The pain and what changed

  • What was the pain felt by the people involved?
  • What happened that forced a change?

Body paragraph 2: Challenges faced and how solved

  • Change is never easy, what were the challenges faced?
  • How were those challenges overcome?

Body paragraph 3: Benefits and lessons learned

  • What benefits resulted from the change?
  • What lessons were learned? (Note: can move this to closing paragraph if needed)

Closing paragraph: Plans or predictions for future

  • What is the plan for the future?

Out of respect for the thought leader and their busy schedule, try to get this done as quickly as possible (1 day turn around is best). The short turnaround time will make reviews easier and keep marketing in the thought leader’s good graces — which makes them much more willing to work with marketing again in the future.

Final steps to publishing and recognizing thought leader content

Once you’ve got the article written, share it with the thought leader(s) and have them review. Ask them to check for story accuracy, any third party sources that could be referenced, and for any nonpublic information. If they need a review from a supervisor, help them to facilitate as needed. Make sure you are also clear on whose name will be listed as the author.

Once the content is published, make sure you send the link to the thought leader. Thank them for their efforts and encourage them to share the content with their peers and social networks. Be sure to make them feel awesome for lending their time and expertise. 

No one wants to spend time and effort on something that doesn’t yield any results for the company. Measure the performance of your content and communicate back to your thought leaders what their efforts have produced. The more they feel they are making a positive impact, the more time they will willingly give in the future.

Bonus tip: When sharing content performance, it is a great time to ask if they have any new topics they’d like to share! This is how thought leader content continues to be churned out regularly!

Need help harvesting and writing thought leadership content? I help companies fill their content calendars with accurate, thought provoking content from thought leaders for product or engineering blogs.