American CEOs Preparing to be Interviewed by the Media Must Have an Online Presence

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CEOs can best prepare for interviews by knowing how journalists prepare themselves while making sure their online personas are up-to-date

While European journalists will permit CEOs to review quotes prior to publication, most U.S. media say no way!

PHOENIX —Preparing to be interviewed by a North American journalist in the United States or Canada? While the top source of interview preparation material is still previous media coverage, today’s journalists are getting the jump on their executive interviewees by studying their social media and online profiles. In a survey of 50 journalists around North America, 80 percent say they will browse an executive’s LinkedIn profile before an interview, followed closely by a review of the executive’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

The survey conducted by the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), also showed that executives’ knowledge of their company and market is more important in an interview than their personality, although not by much.

That’s not to say an executive should not appear personable. In fact, arrogant behavior was reported as the biggest turn-off to a journalist, followed by failing to answer material or sensitive questions and attempting to control the final content of the article.

“One of the biggest dangers facing CEOs who engage in media relations is failing to take the time to prepare for the interview,” said Aaron Blank, CEO/president of  Seattle’s The Fearey Group and the member of PRGN. Ignorance can be costly to a CEO or his/her company. Our survey came up with a number of tips for top executives.”

According to Scott Hanson, president of HMA Public Relations and a founding member of the PRGN, communications professionals who are coaching and media training executives would be well-served by making sure their executives pay close attention not only to the controlled content such as the company’s corporate website, but also the executives personal online profiles.

“So much of our daily lives now exist in the digital space.  CEOs and others who will meet with members of the media need to fully grasp the importance of not only preparing key messaging and talking points regarding their organization, but to make sure their online presence is a good representation of the business as well.”

How CEOs should  prepare for their next interviews:

  • Get your LinkedIn in order. Executives need to make sure their profile represents the company and its brand.
  • Obtain favorable media coverage. Become a thought leader in your industry. Find opportunities to write bylines for publications and offer yourself as a spokesperson to the media.
  • Physical location is important. Since most journalists prefer to meet at the executive’s office, make sure your office represents your organization well—and make sure it is clean and free of company business plans.
  • Check your attitude at the door. We all have bad days, but make sure you are not arrogant or impatient with a journalist and their questions. That will come off in the interview, and potentially sour the story.
  • Have an answer for the sensitive questions. Don’t just dismiss sensitive or difficult questions. Prepare before the interview for difficult questions, so you can answer effectively and get back to your key points.

Additional Tips for CEOs

Realize that your online presence is where the interview actually starts. Represent yourself and your company on LinkedIn the way you want to be represented by the press, because that’s often times where they’ll meet you first. And if you’ve done a good job of presenting yourself as a nice person online, make sure you follow through by being a nice person in person. Consistency is important, and so are good relationships.

If you know you might be asked some hard questions, be ready to answer them.  Being prepared will serve you better than being evasive. Remember that a good interview is a partnership.

Be a good host. Eighty-eight percent of journalists prefer to conduct interviews in the executive’s office, so make sure your office is ready to reflect the best of your organization. Seventy percent prefer the phone.

And since the biggest representation of yourself is still past media coverage, the sooner you get those good interviews in print the better.

According to the survey, top sources of interview preparation material used by journalist are past media coverage, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter and Facebook. The company’s website, annual reports and press releases are second to these.

Journalists expect a CEO to demonstrate outstanding knowledge of the company and market, an engaging personality and a strong track record of performance.

The biggest interview turn-offs for journalists are arrogant behavior, failing to answer material or sensitive questions, indicating what should and should not appear in the article.

Additional survey findings:

  • LinkedIn and Twitter are the top social media tools for journalists preparing for interviews. 80 percent of journalists say they view an executive’s LinkedIn profile before an interview. Twitter and Facebook came in second and third with 70 percent and 64 percent respectively.
  • Past media coverage is the top source of interview preparation by journalists. 82 percent of those surveyed say they use past media coverage as their primary preparation tool. That was followed by a company’s website (58 percent) and their annual reports and press releases (both at 56 percent).
  • During an interview, journalists expect a CEO to demonstrate: outstanding knowledge of the company and market (94 percent), an engaging personality (80 percent) and a strong track record of performance (74 percent).
  • The biggest interview turn-offs for journalists are: arrogant behavior (70 percent), failing to answer material or sensitive questions (66 percent) and indicating what should and should not appear in the article (62 percent).

European survey differences

This survey is a follow-up to a similar survey of more than 150 European journalists in spring of 2014. Highlights from the European survey found differences in approach between continents. The biggest differences include:

  • European journalists prefer annual reports to prepare. 64 percent of journalists surveyed say they use a company’s annual report to prepare for an interview.
  • European journalists may be more accommodating with article reviews. 41 percent of journalists said they always allow the CEO or PR firm to review quotes before publication. 21 percent allowed full article reviews in advance, depending on their relationship with the CEO or PR firm.
  • Practices differed from country to country. Journalists in the U.K., Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal were less willing to give pre-publication review. German and Italian journalists consider a CEO’s private life when forming an impression of him or her. Swiss journalists heavily rely on previous media coverage to drive a story.

“The American and European PRGN surveys show there are different cultures of journalism, and how editors handle interviews. As a global network PRGN can help CEOs communicate in an appropriate way in all relevant markets around the globe,” said Michael Diegelmann, CEO of Cometis AG in Wiesbaden, Germany.

About the U.S. Survey

PRGN surveyed 50 journalists in 19 states during the fall and winter of 2014. The survey follows a similar European survey conducted in the spring of 2014 by PRGN.

About PRGN

The Public Relations Global Network (www.prgn.com) is one of the world’s top four international public relations networks. Nearly 50 independently owned and operated PR firms in 80 markets belong to the invitation-only network. Collectively, PRGN firms have revenue in excess of $110 million, employ more than 900, and operate 65 offices.

About HMA Public Relations

HMA Public Relations is a full-service marketing communications agency whose experience encompasses work in the traditional marketing communications disciplines including public relations, traditional media relations and digital communications, marketing communications, issues management, community relations and special events. Located at 3610 N. 44th St., Suite 110 in Phoenix, HMA Public Relations can be reached at (602) 957-8881.

HMA Public Relations
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We’ve been creating in-depth, personally crafted campaigns to reach benchmarked milestones and goals since 1980. While the tools of our trade have evolved over the years, our strategies remain unwavering.

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