CEOs can anticipate journalists' preparation by making sure their online personas are up-to-date While European journalists will permit CEOs to review quotes before publication, most U.S. media say ‘No way!’ 

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 past media coverage, today’s journalists are getting a jump on their executive interviewees by studying their social media profiles.

In a survey of 50 journalists around North America, 80 percent will browse an executive’s LinkedIn profile before an interview, followed closely by their Twitter and Facebook pages. The survey was conducted by the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) in the fall and winter of 2014.

“Working with media every day, these survey insights are extremely valuable to the CEOs we counsel,” said Blake Lewis, founder and principal of Lewis Public Relations, the network’s Texas affiliate. “Reporters and editors are trained for due diligence, and results show that social media is an important tool in their interview preparation. Online resources and profiles must be kept up-to-date to ensure the executive and company are providing the most accurate, relevant information to both their media counterparts and the public at large.”

The survey 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 The Fearey Group and the member of PRGN conducting the survey. “Ignorance can be costly to a CEO or his/her company. Our survey came up with a number of tips for top executives.”

Media 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. 88 percent of journalists prefer to conduct interviews in the executive’s office, so make sure your space is ready to reflect the best of your organization. Of the journalists surveyed, 70 percent like to conduct interviews by phone.

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

According to the survey, top sources of interview preparation material used by journalists 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 and indicating what should or should not appear in the article.

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 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 or should not appear in the article (62 percent).

Preparing for an interview

How should CEOs prepare for their next interviews?

• Get your LinkedIn in order. Executives need to make sure their profiles accurately represent their companies and brands.

• 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.

European survey differences

The PRGN U.S. media survey follows 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 say 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 are 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.

Public Relations Global Network - 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.

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About Lewis Public Relations Lewis Public Relations is a Dallas-based public relations and strategic communications agency that applies strategic thinking and get-it-done capabilities to a broad range of client challenges and opportunities. Focusing on business-to-business communications, the team combines the knowledge and experience of a large, multinational agency with the agility and value of an entrepreneurial boutique firm. For more information, visit www.lewispublicrelations.com.