How To Prepare for a Subject Matter Expert (SME) Interview 

When pitching story ideas to the media, your outreach should reference an expert who can provide greater insight into the topic. This “subject matter expert,” typically has specialized knowledge in a unique field or area of expertise. Reporters want to feel confident that you can provide accurate and timely information on the topic you are pitching. When crafting a pitch, the first step is always identifying the story angle, followed directly by information about the expert who can provide the journalist with additional insight and perspective. This expert should be someone who is prepared and comfortable speaking directly with the media.

Keeping Your Client Aware 

It is best to make certain your client is aware of the story angle you intend to pitch and the SME you intend to offer. Once the client approves the individual speaking on the topic, it is best to then speak personally with the SME to make certain they also agree. This conversation also can bring forward additional information that will strengthen the pitch.

What Should You Ask Your SME?

When conducting an SME interview, you should be prepared with your own list of questions much as a journalist would have prior to an interview. The goal is to build out the story idea, gain insight to new or currently debated research or developments on the topic, and ensure the SME encounters questions similar to those that may arise in the actual media interview. This is valuable preparation for the success of the interview. Your questions should allow room for the expert to expand on the topic. Be prepared to divert from your prepared questions and ask follow-ups based on the responses the SME provides. It is important that as the initial interviewer, you are gaining information that will make your story pitch more interesting and unique. 

Recording Your SME Discussion

Always ask your SME for permission to record this pre-interview. The recording will help to ensure the accuracy of your information and identify key points that align well with your pitch. Platforms such as allow recording and transcription of your conversation, while Zoom generally allows recording in both video and audio.

Next Steps

  • Turn the insights you gained into a compelling pitch that will draw a reporter’s attention; 
  • Share your draft story pitch with the SME for fact checking; and  
  • Be sure to thank them for their time and contributions to developing your pitch or story. 
  • Developing your own interview skills will enable you to develop a compelling pitch and deliver it with confidence. It also helps you build relationships with SMEs and reporters for future story opportunities. 

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