Study: CEOs should hone knowledge, social media before interviews

The survey of North American journalists reveals that many turn to online profiles and media coverage to form impressions prior to sitting down with executives.


Forewarned is forearmed, the saying goes.

Journalists do their homework prior to conducting interviews, but many executives fail when it comes to conveying expertise and making an impression before the first question is asked.

A Public Relations Global Network study of North American reporters revealed that 82 percent of journalists use past media coverage as their primary source to prepare for an executive interview. More than half check out the company’s website, annual reports and press releases.

Journalists also turn to social media to prepare for interviews, with 80 percent looking at an executive’s LinkedIn profile, 70 percent using Twitter and 64 percent scoping out the company’s Facebook page.

“I was not surprised by how widely social media is being used by journalists who are preparing to interview an executive,” says Anne Buchanan, president of Buchanan Public Relations and a PRGN member. “What does surprise me the number of CEOs who do not have a fully optimized LinkedIn profile.”

Buchanan says having a complete presence—with information about expertise and personal history—across social media platforms is a “prerequisite in today’s digital world.” Executives who don’t bother building their profiles miss opportunities to share information and can undermine their reputations.

Aaron Blank, president and CEO of The Fearey Group, agrees.

“One of the biggest dangers facing CEOs who engage in media relations is failing to take the time to prepare for the interview,” says Blank, who is also a member of PRGN. “Ignorance can be costly to a CEO or his/her company.”

The survey shows that 94 percent of reporters expect a CEO to have “outstanding knowledge of the company and market” and that 80 percent look for an engaging personality. Nearly 74 percent expect executives to have a strong performance record, which CEOs can demonstrate through their social media profiles as well as media coverage before sitting down with a reporter.

“Your presence online is an important part of your personal brand,” Buchanan says. “Many executives are missing a critical opportunity to extend their visibility online by not taking full advantage of social media platforms.”

PRGN also surveyed more than 150 European journalists prior to the North American study; it found a few differences with the way reporters around the world approach interviews.

More than half of European journalists use a company’s annual reports to prepare for an interview, and 41 percent will allow the CEO or PR firm to review quotes before an article is published.

European reporters review executives’ social media presences before an interview, however, and both German and Italian journalists say they consider a CEO’s private life when forming an impression.

Banks said the study also gives executives several tips to prepare for upcoming interviews, including making sure social media profiles (especially LinkedIn) are up to date and correct, and becoming a noted expert in his or her industry. Executives should look for opportunities to write for publications, take on the role of spokesperson and get positive media coverage.

Executives should also check their attitudes before interviews. According to 70 percent of North American journalists, arrogant behavior is the biggest turnoff. More than half of reporters said they’re turned off when a CEO fails to answer material or sensitive questions or attempts to influence what’s included in (or excluded from) a given article.

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