How to Write a Compelling Feature Profile
Whether it is for your own blog or another media platform, feature profiles are a great way to highlight your writing skills as well as the accomplishments of someone else. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to write regularly for Industry Rules and learn about people from all walks of life. Yes, I get a byline but more than anything, I’m genuinely inspired by the entrepreneurs, philanthropist, game changers, and trailblazers that I interview.
The knack for writing about people came pretty naturally, but not without anxiety. I was nervous about my first assignment on Skeptic Distillery, but was drawn immediately to the human element - in this case the founder, Karl Loepke. I wanted to know who the person was behind the whiskey. It was after this story that I found a niche for myself in writing profiles.
Here are a few tips of the profile writing trade that I’ve learned:
Do Your Research
As tempting as it is to Google “Best Interview Questions,” your piece is going to be much more compelling if you tailor the questions specific to your subject. Additionally, it shows the person you’re interviewing that you “did your part.” This sets up a good relationship from the start and a foundation for interesting answers.
In-depth, heartfelt questions yield in-depth heartfelt answers - remember that! And in the end, readers want authenticity and something they can relate to.
Many times, your subject will send over a bio and/or some headshots. Even if he or she does, take it a step further and research their name online. See if they have a website. Watch the trailer for the TV shows they’re starring in, listen to their latest single, check out their social media accounts. The extra hour or so you spend researching will repay itself in a better article.
Email Your Questions
Unless your subject insists you talk on the phone or meet in person, send an email with your questions. It’s more efficient and it allows him or her to think about their answers - which translates most often into BETTER ANSWERS. The other great thing about email is that you have built in quotes ready for copying and pasting into your feature.
There will be many times where you as the writer will “have the words” so to speak, but in some situations, an experience is best described by the person who lived it.
Let these moments stand on their own by using a direct quote. By emailing your questions, you’ll save yourself the headache (and finger-ache) of having to type as they speak.
What’s the Big Picture?
While it is good to have an understanding of your subject’s industry and perspective, resist the tendency to get too esoteric. Try and bring the story back to a theme everyone can relate to. Some examples are: giving back, success in the face of adversity, pursuing one’s dreams. In my feature article about CEO and media mogul E. Jay Saunders, I talked about his home often because it was not only the foundation for many of his projects, but also an idea that resonates with everyone. We all came from somewhere. Your readers’ idea of home may be different than the one in your piece, but for the people that do identify, your writing will resonate with them deeply. It is impossible to write an article that hits all people, but by referencing a “big picture theme,” you will reach more people than if you were to remain too specific.
A good guideline is to mention your theme in the beginning, middle, end. This ensures that there is a continuous, relatable thread in your writing.