Journalists are well-known for asking insightful, thought-provoking questions during interviews. But did you know this practice can also be used to promote your organization’s long-term success? At Circa, we host in-depth interviews with all our new Digital PR clients and with every professor who we use for PR outreach. This approach has been a huge success for us, but it isn’t exclusive to PR initiatives. It can have the same usefulness for any company or individual who regularly onboard new clients. To that end, we’ve outlined our process for our journalistic approach to onboarding new clients. We’ve also explained how to be a journalist and use the approach to improve customer experience and company success in the long run.

Circa’s PR Onboarding Process

Our approach to onboarding is much like the journalists who zealously seek a deeper understanding of whatever story they are assigned to. We dig into our new clients’ backgrounds to determine how they got to where they are today and learn their stories.

Through our research and questions, we seek to uncover the experiences that have shaped these clients as professionals and understand more about the areas of expertise that have brought them to their current positions. What do they hope to accomplish in their field in the future? Why did they choose to pursue their current business path over others? How does their current research or expertise apply to the current socio-political zeitgeist?

These are only a few of the questions we attempt to answer each time we onboard new clients. The ultimate goal of these interviews is to get a sense of how the client or professor’s past, present, and future insights might be applicable to media outreach. The insights are critical for our particular method of outreach and for contextualizing complex research findings into consumer-friendly media appearances, but they can also be applied to client success in any business, including yours.

So, what does this approach to onboarding look like in practice? Here are the steps we follow with each new client and professor that joins the Circa ranks.


Before beginning work with a new client, we will typically introduce ourselves through email. This enables our team to get to know the client on a more surface level and gives us a starting point for determining the best questions to ask during the interview portion of our onboarding process.


Once we’ve learned the basics of our new client or professor, we can begin to delve a little further into their backstory. This entails a deep dive into their background, past and current projects they’ve worked on, and current events that are relevant to their areas of expertise. We watch any presentations they’ve given, read research paper extracts, and look for any past media appearances they’ve made. This information provides the basis of each question that’s asked in the interview stage and helps to establish a rapport between our team and the client or professor being interviewed. Our well-researched, expertly crafted questions show these new clients that have a deep understanding of their work. This positions us into a more cooperative position.


The final step we use to onboard new clients is the interview. It usually consists of a 30-minute phone call or video conference. This stage sets the tone for media relations pertaining to the client or professor joining our team and allows us to establish a strong relationship right off the bat; with it, we are able to gain a sense of the professor’s personality while introducing our personality to the professor. Much like the insights journalists gain when interviewing people for news articles, this information also gives us the tools we need to ensure our clients and professors receive the best and most relevant media opportunities possible.

What Would a Journalist Do?

Before speaking to any source, every good journalist does their research in preparation. We take that practice and apply it to the marketing of higher education institutions and individuals. Like a journalist writing a profile piece, we want to learn as much as we can about the professor or client. Our goal is to accurately tell their story to the media.

Earned media plays a critical role in marketing success, no matter what industry you’re in. The more positively you’re portrayed in the media, the more you (and your business) will succeed. This is where following our on-boarding method can come in handy. Whether you’re a higher education institution, a fortune 500 company, or some other type of business, you can benefit from having a positive, more approachable media presence. If you onboard new clients like a journalist, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the role you play.

The Benefits of Our Method

When you take the time to understand your clients’ individual needs, you can accurately share their expertise and stories. You also maintain a better relationship with your client if they walk away from the interview certain that you are truly their partners. You understand what the client’s passions and goals are, and they understand that you are an expert in their business or field.

This sense of partnership, collaboration, and shared confidence is useful in any client-agency relationship, not just PR. People often relate better to companies that have a more approachable presence. If you can establish this in every client relationship, you’ll be much more successful in business over time. Your clients will feel more comfortable addressing possible problems they have with you. They will also be confident you are knowledgeable about their industry and their business.

A journalistic approach to onboarding can also help you attract new clients. What is your first response when you have a customer service experience that goes above and beyond your expectations? What about when you have a dreadful experience that couldn’t possibly get any worse? Word will spread about the amount of time your company puts into getting to know their clients, and this word of mouth marketing will lead to more and more new projects.

Put It Into Practice

So what do you say? Are you ready to put Circa’s methods into practice when you onboard new clients at your own business?

By implementing this process, we’ve been able to gain a better understanding of our clients and their unique needs. We’ve helped many improve their online presence and reach new audiences outside of the traditional academic world. We’re just getting started.

Now, it’s your turn.

What insights have you gained into your clients by on-boarding like a journalist? Let us know in the comments! And if you would like help implementing our process in your institution or business, please contact us here.

Connor Christiansen is a PR Specialist at Circa Interactive with over four years experience in public relations. His clients have been routinely featured in premier media outlets like The Hill, U.S. News and World Report, and the International Business Times. Connor is a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno and is an avid comic book reader.

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