When you’re preparing to write an article, you’ll typically need to track down a few experts and interview them.
Sometimes, an editor will assign an article along with sources and contact information. But most of the time, you’re on your own to track down the right people to add the human element and expertise to your story.
How do you find the right people to talk to? And how do you find their contact information?
Read on for some techniques for identifying and contacting sources, even when they seem impossible to find.
Know your experts
When writing an article, you’ll likely want to speak with a variety of different people depending on the type of article.
Three common types of experts to speak with are those at universities, agencies and people in industry. Below you’ll see a few tips on reaching out to each type of expert.
1. Identifying university experts
Sometimes, you will know exactly who you’d like to interview and you just need to track them down. Other times, you’ll need to identify experts in a certain field.
Recently, I needed to track down experts in a certain field of biology.
My first step was simply to open up Google and type in “university expert” along with a description of the field. Pages and pages of university experts popped up. I went through the first page of results and found professors at three different universities who were experts in the field and seemed like a good fit for the story, so I reached out to them to set up interviews.
I also went to Google Scholar and typed in a few keywords and searched for recent academic articles on the topic I was researching. This revealed a few recent academic journal articles on the topic I was writing about.
It was easy to see who wrote the articles and, conveniently enough, most academic articles include contact information for one or more of the authors.
A quick email later, and I was waiting to hear back from one of the field’s leading experts.
2. Contacting agency experts
When I need to seek out certain experts in a government agency like a national park, I typically seek out the park’s public information officer and tell them who I’d like to speak with.
You don’t need to know people’s names for this to work. They can usually connect you with the most relevant person based on a description of what you’d like to talk about. For example, if you would like to talk to an expert about the park’s history, they should know who to connect you with to speak about that topic.
Going through a public information officer is a great time saver, especially since agency employees must typically seek approval from their public information officer before they can speak to the media anyway.
3. Seeking out industry experts
To find industry experts, look up relevant companies and reach out.
LinkedIn can be very helpful with this. If you know you want to speak to an insurance expert with a certain job title, you can type the title into LinkedIn and find a number of leads.
Or consider contacting industry associations and seeing if they can connect you with the right people.
For example, if you need to interview flutists, consider contacting a flutist association and telling them that you’re looking for a mid-career flutist for an article. They can likely help connect you with potential subjects willing to be interviewed.
How to find a source’s contact information
Once you have an idea about who you’d like to speak with, you’ll need to track down that person and set up a time for an interview. Try these techniques to reach out.
1. Find a direct contact
If you’re looking to interview someone who works with a certain company, say, a new restaurant, the first place you should look is that restaurant’s website. Many will have contact information for the website and for key staff members easily accessible on the page.
If direct contact information isn’t listed, pick up the phone, call the company, explain what you’re doing and see if you can obtain that person’s direct line or email address.
I prefer not to use general addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org” whenever possible since these may or may not help you get in touch with your subject. It will often take longer to reach them through generic email addresses since it will likely have to go through other people first. And sometimes it will just lead to a dead end and not reach the person at all.
It’s almost always better to seek out a direct contact, though in some cases, reaching out to a person’s assistant will be your best bet.
2. Use media departments and public relations firms to your advantage
If a company is represented by a public relations firm, reach out to the firm and the account director who is handling their account. Their job is to set up interviews and obtain media coverage, so they will often be very helpful in setting you up with the people you need to speak with.
If you’re looking to contact someone affiliated with a public agency or university, you’ll often need to reach out to the media relations department or public information officer there. Public employees will often need authorization to speak to you and working through the correct channels will typically help expedite the process.
3. Figure out a subject’s email address
If you’re having a hard time finding a person’s email address and the above techniques aren’t working, consider opening up a search engine and simply typing in that person’s name, company and “email” or “phone number.” This will often lead you directly to their contact information.
But if their email address is elusive, you may want to see if you can find out how the company formats their email addresses and make an educated guess. If you can find another person’s email address in their company, try formatting the person’s name in the same way and seeing if the email goes through.
Oftentimes, businesses will use the same format with all employees such as “email@example.com” or something similar. Try a few common combinations if you’re unsure.
For example, for Jane Smith, you might want to try “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com” (typically only used at smaller companies), “firstname.lastname@example.org” or other common configurations.
4. Use the phone book
Do you have a dusty copy of the white pages kicking around somewhere in your house? You should. Pick it up, dust it off, see if your source is listed and give them a call.
I always try to contact someone at their business address first before bothering anyone at home. But sometimes, you’ll be looking to interview someone who is retired or not affiliated with a business.
While many younger people don’t have landlines these days, many older people do and, for some, this is the best way to reach them. I’ve succeeded in contacting quite a few hard-to-track-down people by simply pulling out a physical copy of the white pages and finding their home phone number.
However you reach out to your subjects, it’s important to have a bit of patience. Even if you’re eager to speak with them immediately, they likely already have a very full day and will get back to you when they can.
Of course, if it appears they do not want to be contacted, respect their privacy and do not attempt to contact them. You can almost certainly find someone else to interview for your article.