Managing a Press Conference
Press conferences are media events. They are designed to either get positive press coverage of an announcement by your
Press conferences are unlike any other presentation opportunity, and the repercussions can be serious
Press conferences take a lot of preparation and staff work. That time is well spent because a great press conference can mean blanket coverage in newspapers, radio, TV, and blogs — but a horrible press conference can haunt you.
When to Hold a Press Conference
There are many ways to get media coverage. A press conference should only be used under three circumstances:
- When you have big news to communicate
Press conferences take a fair bit of
organising, and they are not easy events to manage. You therefore only want to hold one when you have really big news to communicate,and want to get it out to a large audience as fast as possible.
- When the news is about to break
No journalist worth their salt will turn up to a press conference if the news has already broken. It has to be ‘new’ news. The only exception is if you’re responding to a disaster but, even then, the press conference has to be the first time that you have given a formal response, or you have to have something new to share with the media.
- When journalists want to know
If nobody’s asking, then probably nobody wants to know and the press won’t turn up at your press conference. The time to hold a press conference is when you can’t manage the phones because so many journalists are seeking information.
Here is a good checklist for a good press conference:
You’ve got to pick a time that works for TV, newspapers, and radio. If it’s too early in the day, reporters will have a hard time getting there. Too late in the day and you’ll be pushing up against deadlines. Mid-morning to noon is good. It’s early enough to give people time to file their stories, but not so early that they’ve got to hop onto the highway and fight traffic the second they get to work. Advanced notice is critical. You’d want to give people a day’s warning about a press conference if you can. TV and radio news directors map out where their cameras and reporters will be. Give them time to plan. Print reporters are a bit more mobile, but if this is truly big news, they’ll want a photographer there, and that takes planning, too.
It should be close to the major media players, so they’re not driving half-way across the state. It should have good visuals and be well-lit for TV. A dark theater is the worst choice. Outdoor locations are sometimes OK if the topic deals with the outdoors or the environment. But this is risky. It could rain. A herd of moose could trample reporters, who usually want power outlets for their cameras and lights and laptops. Inside is usually best.
Putting together a press conference is a huge production and a big pain, so there’s a tendency to want to put on a big show. Try to avoid six speeches in a row and a PowerPoint slideshow. Reporters want to hear a little about the news, then ask questions. They hate sitting through a dog-and-pony show that lasts 45 minutes before opening up for questions. You can skimp on some of the production values and make reporters happy if you get to questions quickly. That’s what reporters want to do: ask questions and get quotable answers. Say what has to be said, then get to questions.
Reporters will want documents if you’re announcing or explaining anything. Get a rough headcount and make sure there are enough copies to go around — and post those documents online for reporters and bloggers who are interested in the press conference but couldn’t make the trip. With the social media so important now, it’s smart to have somebody post updates during the press conference to your Twitter feed or Facebook page. Inviting the media to a press conference means they’ll be shooting video and recording audio. Give them good shots and good sound clips. Is there a person, an image or a single sentence that sums up what you’re trying to say? Put that to use.
Make a list of likely questions. What will your answers be? Also, do a rough walk-through of the press conference. Who talks first? What happens next? Who’s going to MC? And who’s the best person to tackle certain issues or questions.