How to conduct a good case study interview

James Dwyer with his son Dexter

People get people.  And there’s nothing more compelling than a first-person case study or testimonial for your client’s services or product.  An independent recommendation and success story is a PR gift but care must be taken to create a case study to ensure its integrity and honesty while ensuring your case study is given the respect they deserve.

Every individual and every individual’s story will be different so there are no ‘hard and fast’ rules to conducting a good case study interview.  But here are a few pointers we have learned along the way.


Case study interviews should be more about listening and less about asking questions! By all means have some outline questions lined up to establish key facts such as their name, age, occupation, where they live and how they found out about your client’s product/service. But the best angle for your story is almost certainly the one you haven’t heard yet.  Let your case study tell you in their own words what impact your client’s product or service has had on them and, more importantly, how it has improved or changed their life.

Understand what’s interesting

As a PR representative of your client, your focus will be on the successful use of its product or service.  But that is NOT the story.  The story is how that successful experience has changed someone’s life.  The fact your client’s product has helped someone regain their mobility is not the story.  The fact a father can lift his young son in his arms again following paralysis is the story as James Dwyer, a case study for our client Neurokinex proved.  Believe me, your client doesn’t need to be in the headline to be recognised for the part they have played in someone’s lifestyle transformation.

Think in headlines

Following on from what’s interesting, for a national consumer story, you need to think in headlines. National newspaper editors need a good headline first and foremost.  Many of the writers we work with ask us to suggest or create that headline for them.  Why? Because if you haven’t got a strong headline, you haven’t got a strong enough story.

Be curious…. but not nosey

Treat talking to your case study as a conversation, not an interview.  Let them speak freely about their experience and lifestyle. If you’re listening properly, nine times out of 10, they will say something rather interesting or emotionally striking.  Pick that up, ask them more about this.  If it makes you think ‘oh, that’s interesting’ it will interest the media and their audience too.  Curiosity to find out more is good but be careful not to probe too much or be nosey.  Again, listen carefully: hesitation or a change in their tone-of-voice are good indicators you’re going too far.  Respect their privacy. Rein it back in.

Respect them

Show respect at all times for your case study and never forget they are an individual, a child, parent, family member, colleague or friend to others.  They are not a commodity and you – and your client – should feel privileged they are sharing their story with you for media purposes. Where possible, find out what else matters to them and include this – perhaps they are fundraising for a charity close to their heart. Or they may be looking for additional help or support for a campaign they are working on.  Weave this into your story to help them as they are helping you.

Protect them

Once you have your case study story approved and ready to pitch, you have a responsibility to protect them and their best interests.  Prior to pitching, establish if there are any media they don’t wish to speak to for any reason.  Also understand if there are any ‘no go’ areas for them (this can be the case for a well-known case study who perhaps has an ‘old’ story in the public domain that they don’t wish to revisit). Understand that most people won’t have spoken to a national newspaper journalist before. Not only is this daunting but they are vulnerable to being taken into areas they don’t want to discuss. Brief them carefully, choose your journalist wisely and go with one you can trust to treat the story with sensitivity. In some cases, you may wish to join the interview to give the case study the buffer zone and support they may need to manage the questions.

Encourage them – but don’t push it

Some case studies may need encouragement and reassurance before they allow you to use their story.  Reassure them they will have sight of what you write and can amend/approve this before you pitch it.  Explain that you will only approach one trusted journalist at a time and this person/title will be agreed by the case study first. Some of the most personal and difficult case studies we have worked with agree to give just one interview in order to ‘give back’ to the client who has helped them. That feels manageable to them and, carefully placed, will achieve your awareness building aim.

Spreading the word

Many case studies will have found out about your client’s product or service by reading a similar story themselves. Knowing how much seeing that piece helped them, they can usually be encouraged to share their story in the same way to help someone else.  This is exactly what happened with the parents of baby Ralph who saw a BBC TV news piece about a family whose son was making great progress at Neurokinex Kids. In that moment they had found the help they needed for their son and went on to share his success story in the hope other families could be helped.

If you have a strong case study story to share with the media, we can help build this sensitively and place it carefully, contact us to find out more….

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