Guest blog… ‘What I look for in an interviewee…’

Today in our guest blog media agent Alison Smith-Squire talks about setting up and running a Sell My Story website… and what she looks for in an interviewee…

Media agent
Alison is a media agent

Almost six years ago when I set up as an online media agent, it was a voyage into the unknown. Just one of two or maybe three agencies were online – I don’t believe there was even ‘a media agent’…

Then, the whole premise of an interviewee going online to sell a story was so new, even though my website did well in Google, I felt lucky if I had one inquiry a day through my site, which had perhaps three pages at most.

It’s a far cry from the hundreds of people a day that find their way to my site now – which incidentally now consists of tens of pages.

Yet the premise of why I set up as a media agent online remains the same today. I wanted to set up a sell my story website the ordinary person could trust, somewhere they could seek independent advice about selling a story to the press (newspapers, magazines and TV) and where, as celebrities have been paid, they too could earn money for their time and trouble.

But while receiving a constant stream of stories from potentially willing interviewees is of course the biggest bonus of being an online, it is only a small part of running a successful online business.

Firstly, maintaining your online website is much more time-consuming and much harder to make a success of than you might imagine.

As a journalist working on a publication, you will obviously have some idea about the story you are researching – for example, you might be following up a court case. But enquiries through a sell my story site come through 24/7 and can be about literally anything from politics to a couple’s relationship to a pet.

I need to be constantly up to date with the news (I click on news websites hourly) being aware of the latest celebrity scandals, trends and breaking stories so I can react fast if something comes in that is related to the news at the time.

Enquiries often come in when I’m very busy and you can guarantee the punchline is right at the end of someone’s very long enquiry. Then all stories need to be checked out. I will usually have an initial confidential chat with an interviewee – answering all questions about the process. I try to gauge what they want – a magazine piece, a news story? Is it just about the most money or is the amount of publicity generated more important? Often a story then requires further checks before a synopsis or ‘pitch’ is sent to editors. It might require legal paperwork to stand it up and I always ask interviewees to send in some of their own photos as good ‘collects’ to illustrate their story can make it much more valuable.

I have a mental checklist of attributes I look for in an interviewee.

Firstly, if someone is approaching other agents or papers (and these days it has become extremely competitive and there are now LOTS of sell story websites) then I am unlikely to take their story on. This is because I like to build up a rapport and work with interviewees on their exclusive story selling it in multiple deals across newspapers, magazines and TV. I also need to be totally sure when I offer a story exclusively to a publication, it truly is exclusive.

Then if interviewees can’t provide photos, paperwork or prove difficult to contact they are unlikely to be reliable enough to enable their story to be sold. And if they are awkward or rude then it goes without saying I won’t pursue their story further.

They must also be sure about selling their story. However amazing their story is, interviewees must be completely happy and enthusiastic about selling their story for me to go ahead. Interestingly, if people don’t go ahead straightaway (and I always respect they might need time to think about it) many do eventually go ahead at a later date. One man, whose story was sold to the Daily Mail, and made the front page, came back a year after I initially gave him advice about selling his story. And a couple, whose story went into the Daily Mirror and later Best magazine, also emailed me four months after their initial chat.

And of course as in any business, days can be full of tiny hassles – impossible deadlines, needy interviewees and ruthless editors to name a few!

Thankfully, though, I love it.

Alison Smith-Squire runs Featureworld.

Find out more about seeking help of a media agent here: Media Agent

For advice about selling a story contact us here: Selling a story contact form