Building Blogger Trust Among CEOs
An article in one of our PR trades talked about a study citing business bloggers’ frustration in not having more CEO access. Some of the key issues were lack of appreciation, respect, and access, as well as excessive control by the communications staff.
As we all know, there are two sides to every story.
While career journalists are accustomed to (and still occasionally frustrated by) the PR process, for bloggers without a journalism background, this may be a new thing. I can well understand why someone who is devoting their career to blogging and has amassed a sizable following and credibility would be frustrated by the lack of engagement by CEOs.
It’s important for bloggers to understand that many CEOs grew up in a different media universe. (A recent MSN article states that while the average CEO age at S&P 500 companies has declined slightly in the past few years, it was 52.9 years old in 2010.) CEOs are, by and large, a generation of people who grew up with eight-tracks, newspapers and typewriters.
While some may now read their morning paper on an iPad, the paper is undoubtedly the place where many CEOs still turn for their news. There may be a lack of understanding among some CEOs about what bloggers do, if they are “real” journalists, who they are, and, most importantly, why they should talk with them.
When a reporter from the Wall Street Journal or CNBC reaches out, the CEO immediately understands this opportunity – these are media “brand names” they know. On the other hand, an email from “Bob’s Business Blog” may elicit a forward to the PR department: “Can you take care of this?”
While you may be frustrated with the PR gatekeepers, it is their job to promote and protect their company and their CEO. (It’s also their job to educate the CEO on bloggers, digital and social media, but that’s another topic for another time.)
It’s important to remember the real risk that can face CEOs – an offhand remark in a casual conversation captured on video and posted online could quickly throw the company into crisis mode – and the stock price into a downward spiral. As with any relationship, building mutual trust is key.
To counteract these challenges, I suggest bloggers take a page out of the PR handbook:
(1) Work within the system. Rather than trying to contact the CEO directly (which will result in your request being bumped back to PR), reach out to a PR contact with an introductory email, asking to be added to their press list. Create a one-page summary of your blog to send with the email to the PR contact. The page should include a paragraph describing the content and focus of your blog, stats on your site traffic, a paragraph about your background, links to posts you are particularly proud of, and links to any press coverage you have received.
(2) Keep in touch with the PR contact, asking for comment on recent company news or relevant industry trends.
(3) Once you have established the relationship, ask the PR contact if you can have an introductory meeting with him/her. During the meeting, ask if you can secure a time for coffee or a call with the CEO.
(4) Be patient. The CEO is running the company. He/she has countless stakeholders to answer to, employees to manage and issues to tackle. Once you are “on the list,” be persistent to stay there – but don’t take it personally when your meeting gets rescheduled a few times.
(5) Finally, when you get the meeting, be sure that you have thoroughly researched the CEO’s background, recent company news, and come prepared with specific topics you want to address. Demonstrating your expertise will show the CEO that you are committed to sharing credible, accurate information about his/her company and will build a comfort level for an ongoing relationship.