Helping other CEOs avoid bad press: Social exchange and impression management support among CEOs in communications with journalists

James D Westphal, Sun Hyun Park, Michael L McDonald, Mathew Hayward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


In this study, we examine the determinants and consequences of impression management (IM) support in communications between CEOs and journalists, whereby CEOs of other firms provide positive statements about a focal CEO s leadership and strategy and/or external attributions for low performance at the focal CEO s firm. Drawing from social exchange theory, our theoretical perspective suggests how IM support may result from norms of reciprocity among corporate leaders. We consider the potential for direct and generalized reciprocity in the provision of IM support, including generalized reciprocity in which CEOs who received IM support previously pay the support forward to another third-party CEO, and a second form of generalized reciprocity in which CEOs reciprocate IM support to fellow CEOs whom they believe have given similar support to other CEOs in the past. We also draw from the social psychological literature on persuasion to suggest why IM support for another CEO may have a more positive influence on the tenor of journalists coverage about the firm sleadership than impression management by the CEO about his or her own leadership and strategy. We test our hypotheses with data from large and midsized public U.S. companies from 1999 to 2007, including original survey data from a large sample of CEOs and journalists. The results supported our hypotheses, and additional findings suggested that the apparent effects of impression management by leaders and staff about their own firms following a negative earnings surprise may be partially attributable to the effects of IM support.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-268
Number of pages52
JournalAdministrative Science Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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