If you’re in public relations and/or media relations, you may have already or will at some point in your career organize a press conference when big news strikes. Hopefully it’s good news but sometimes we’re not so fortunate. When you have something to say that is new or needs to be communicated to your community FAST, it can be enhanced visually and through charismatic and knowledgeable spokespersons-that’s why a press conference is a great public relations tool. Let’s face it, there is no real formula to a successful press conference, but there are a few key points to consider that will help.
Last week, myself along with a few key individuals from within my department hosted, a press conference for my company. Learning of the news just 3 days prior to the event, it was a challenge but we managed to pull it off with ample press coverage and little snags along the way. I’m lucky to work with such amazing professionals. If you’re curious on our outcomes for this particular event, click here.
The most important factor to remember for a press conference or event is for the message(s) of your news to coincide with an issue(s) that may be on the media’s radar (timing). So, I’ve provided a list of questions to ask yourself when deeming if your news is worthy enough of a press conference and why?
Q1: Is this ‘really’ news?
Seems like a silly question, I know. But you’d be surprised how many PR people or management teams think certain things are really news, when in fact it is not. Do your research before you do anything! Talk with key individuals within your company and or client contacts. Find out what makes the news unique and how it compares to its direct competition. Does it enhance the industry, community or direct consumers? Think like a reporter, folks! Don’t just appease your clients. Would you tell a friend? If you’re still having a hard time deeming it as newsworthy – talk with someone who’s not in your direct circle of colleagues or friends. Talk to your spouse, far away relative or chat with your friends in the industry. Would they deem it as news?
Q2: Do I have statistical evidence to present to our audience?
Reporters LOVE statistics. And if you don’t provide numbers, they will ask. If your spokespersons aren’t prepared, you have a big issue on your hands because the messages could be skewed. Be sure to use good audiovisual materials to enhance your information. Charts, graphs, pictures, and other visuals should be large enough to be seen from a distance or provided in the press packets or media kits. They should deliver the point you want to make in effective and attractive ways.
Also, don’t hold a press event without materials. Be sure to put together media kits or public relations writing that includes an agenda, background information on the issue being addressed, brief bios of your panelists or speakers and other materials that support your issue.
Q3: Do I have the right venue?
Make sure the venue is appropriate. Is there parking nearby, many entrances, etc? If inside, a small room is better than a large room. Know how the room is set-up (a podium, sound system, good place to hang a banner). If the event is outside, be sure there is space for people to gather, what is the best angle for visuals? Is there room for cameras? How is the lighting? Audio? Don’t make it hard for reporters and journalists.
Q4: What’s the appropriate time to host an event with this kind of news?
Make sure the location you choose will accommodate the media. Research reporter deadlines and circulation. In my experience, a news conference should be held in the morning or early afternoon so the media have time to develop and edit their stories. Monday through Thursday are considered the best but I’ve found that Friday works too. Always allow extra time with your spokespersons for interviews before and after the conference.
Q5: Do I have enough time to pitch? Will it be picked up?
The way you get the word out to your media lists is very important – we all know that. Announce the conference with a news release, but hold the important information for the event. The invite or press release should be released 3 to 5 days before the event to give the media enough time to schedule a reporter to cover it. However, news isn’t always so convenient. You may only have a day or a few hours so be prepared to work fast. If you do have time, follow up with a phone call the day before.
Q6: If I hold a news conference and no one comes, will I lose face with the spokespersons as well as with my media contacts?
It’s simple. Yes, you can! No one like to be embarrassed or lose credibility, which can be lost fast with both your spokesperson and media contacts if you lack attendance. I’ve held a press event with little attendance, yes … and it was because the news was over communicated prior to the event, making it less newsworthy. Be sure to weigh other news as well. What’s happening in your community? The field? Will it outweigh your news? Ask yourself these questions before hosting and organizing. The last thing you want to do is lose your credibility in the midst of poor planning.
Q7: Are my spokespeople interesting to watch on TV or listen to on the radio?
Feature good speakers who are experts or community leaders. Always ask yourself, “Is this person interesting enough to watch on TV or listen to on the radio?” Before the news event, discuss the agenda with your speakers, explain the questions they might anticipate, and practice the answers they should provide. Develop talking points that communicate your key messages. Make sure that each speaker is addressing a different topic and not repeating information given by another speaker. These points may seem basic, as we’ve learned them and lived them day-to-day, but you’d be surprised what we can lose sight of when things get busy.
Q8: Are my spokespeople prepared? For anything and ANY question?
This is challenging and the most difficult part of a news conference. If you don’t prepare your spokespersons with a list of tough or controversial questions, you could be setting your, your client organization up for failure. Go through a mock Q and A. You may have to switch up your spokespersons in the last minute and that’s OK. The last thing you want to do is turn your positive coverage into a negative.
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Remember, these are a list of the questions that I used in my experiences. So, what would you add? If you have tips to add that have helped you in your job, please share.