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Margot Lester's badge from the National High School Journalism Convention

Getting sources to talk for journalistic interviews is a perennial issue, whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out. It's certainly among the most prevalent issues I'm asked about by young journalists, which is why I debuted a new session at the Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco.

I made a list of the tactics I use to get people to open up and give useful responses, surveyed some colleagues for their advice, and looked at what some other pros had to say on the matter. My small group of experts was:

I also included some terrific advice from the inimitable Gwen Ifill.

Turns out, we all agree on the same set of interviewing "magic beans":

  • Establish empathy
  • Give sources a reason to participate
  • Show you care
  • Do your research
  • Ask better questions

Flip through the presentation to learn more about each technique. Share the deck with new reporters in your newsroom, or writers new to brand journalism and content marketing.

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IngramSpark, the self-publishing arm for the book distribution giant, made the most of its appearance at the Independent Book Publishers Association meeting in Austin. The company offered a clinic on effective conference/trade show marketing.

How to get more from conference & trade show sponsorship and booths

Here's how the IngramSpark team did it:


Bailey Davis & Steve Peha at IBPA UniversityThey got their name on everything, including the full back page of the program.

Booth Staff

IngramSpark's booth was staffed by engaging and knowledgeable people like publisher engagement manager Bailey Davis, who were genuinely helpful. They mastered the delicate balance between spending time with visitors while not making anyone wait too long.

Booth Stuff

A selection of trade show give-aways from Ingram SparkNo useless swag here! The IngramSpark folks offered some nice stickers promoting their podcast, a nifty composition book for note-taking, and a small book offering tips on publishing, marketing and discoverability. In other words, stuff we might actually use! But even more impressive was their product samples. Each book has a few printed pages inside so we could get a feel for quality inside and out, plus -- this is the beauty part -- each one has crucial details about pricing and production. This info supports satisfying self-service when staff is otherwise engaged, and speeds the conversation when interacting one-on-one. It also gives visitors some confidence in the numbers.

Featured Speaking

Ms. Davis not only led a session on how to find and work with a distributor, she participated in one-on-one Ask the Expert sessions, 15-minute meetings with authors and small publishers. This enabled IngramSpark to share insights and provide information that was truly relevant and personalized.

IngramSpark is arguably the leader in this space, so it's not like they needed to be at this event to get noticed. Its presence here and its strategic activities enabled a giant company to deliver valuable information to and establish personalized relationships with small publishers.

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Best of The Word Factory Q1 2018

Here are our top 3 posts for the first quarter. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

25 Lessons Learned through 25 Years in Business

This year marks a quarter of a century of business ownership for me. Check out some of the lessons I've learned the hard way.


Margot Lester & Aaron Keck at WCHLRemember the Public Service Announcement

I know, PSAs seem so passé. But they're actually a terrific vehicle for reaching radio listeners, a loyal and growing audience. Read why.


Recommit to Protecting Consumer Data

The Facebook privacy scandal has us all more focused on protecting consumer data. It's also an opportunity to upgrade your privacy policy and ToS to plain language versions users can understand and trust. Here's how.


It’s often hard to justify time away from the office to do good works. But it’s a crucial aspect of being a good corporate citizen. I believe volunteering and advocacy are priorities for business owners and their employees. That’s why I took off two days this week to travel to Washington, DC, for AIDS United’s AIDSWatch with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network, a nonprofit we support with in-kind services, capacity building workshops, financial support and direct action. AIDSWatch is an opportunity for HIV and AIDS advocates from across the country to meet with their Washington representatives to share personal stories, deliver valuable data, and encourage policy action.

For a lot of issues, having business leaders involved can be a difference maker, especially for elected officials and influencers. When professionals are allies, it shows that the issue is important to the broader community, not only the people closest to the cause.

I challenge you to invest whatever time you can in the organization’s and causes that matter to you and your community. You’ll feel great from having made a meaningful contribution, and even if some work stuff piles up, you’ll have more emotional and physical energy to get caught up. Bonus: if your clients/customers/users share your values, you might even get some business boost from its, too.


Given all the headlines about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, many of us are now acutely aware of how brands we interact with gather and use (sometimes improperly) our personality and personally identifiable information. That makes now the perfect time to remind you own customers and users about how you collect, employ, re-sell and protect their data.

I know your legal team has its own approach to this -- which is absolutely necessary -- but consider a plain language version that outlines clearly how and why you do what you do with information gathered in surveys, user profiles, etc. Customers need to truly understand how and why you use their data

Shopify's privacy policy simultaneously makes the attorneys and the users happy. Here's an excerpt from their site:

This screen grab from Shopify illustrates an article on plain language terms of service on The Word Factory Blog

Similarly, Tumblr's terms of service are clearly "translated" using a conversational tone:


As we see from these examples, plain language isn't boring. Plain language ensures that the concept is, as my Grandmother Memory would say, "plain as day". (Y'all might say "clear".) Now matter how you say it, straightforward, uncomplicated language has power. It doesn't dilute the idea, it distills it. (For those of you not familiar with making moonshine or other spirits, that means it's more potent!)

Taking this extra step shows users that you're not hiding behind a lengthly legalese set of terms, which gives them stronger confidence in giving you their information. And right now, trust is a more important driver of loyalty than almost anything else.

While you're at it, make sure you've got a clear crisis response plan, including a dormant crisis website,  for when there is a breach or other improper use of data -- because there likely will be.

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