If you’re a writer and you live on planet earth, you’ve probably dealt with an unresponsive source. It’s frustrating when an interview subject won’t return your call or email. After all, you’re promoting their business and expertise, aren’t you? Plus, you’ve probably got a deadline looming.
Keep in mind that your interview subjects are not running on your timeframe. Maybe that’s obvious, but I have to remind myself that my priorities are not their priorities. I’m essentially inserting myself into someone’s busy day. On top of that, I’m expecting them to be articulate and (if they’re a community expert) to be present enough to offer good advice. That’s asking a lot, especially if someone’s not used to being interviewed, as is sometimes the case with local business owners.
Here are some of the methods I’ve used to get unresponsive sources to call or email me back.
Try Twice (or Thrice)
Maybe it should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. If you have an email address and a phone number, use both. Some people read emails and, once they’re no longer bolded in their inbox, forget about them. Leaving a voicemail will often speed things along. Also, does their organization have a Facebook page? If so, try contacting them through it. Facebook posts the length of time it takes a page to respond to messages. It’s right on their page, so most organizations try to keep their responses timely.
Be Up Front About What You Want
When I email a source, I am thorough. I briefly explain who I am and why I’m writing. I let the source know exactly what I’m looking for and my deadline. (I often give a deadline ahead of my actual deadline to give myself enough time to talk with the source and write the story.) I emphasize that my intention is to feature their expertise and their organization (hello, free publicity). Also, if the organization advertises in your magazine, which is often the case, you might mention that so they can be sure you’re an insider.
Get Someone Else to Help
Let the person who answers the phone know why you’re calling. I take the time to explain myself to the person who picks up before asking for my source by name. That way, if the source isn’t available, someone else at the organization can help track them down. I’ve had sales people offer to call a manager or CEO at home to notify them that I’m trying to get in touch and that I’m on deadline. Super helpful.
All that said, there’s a source who’s assigned to nearly every story I write for one local publication. I email and call him each time, employing the above tactics. He never responds. I finally told my editor that I don’t think he’s interested. She called him, got a hold of him, and he assured her he’d get in touch with me. That was a month ago…Sometimes, not even bringing in the big guns will get the job done.