As opposed to scheduling interviews with individual reporters or emailing press releases, press conferences allow PR teams and company representatives to interact with a number of journalists simultaneously. A press conference can save PR staff and the organization’s executives many hours or even days doing one-on-one interviews.
Press conferences can be held for groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, major product announcements and large donations to charities. The major “hook” to get journalists from major news sources to a press conference is that the conference will reveal “major news.” Press conferences should be reserved only for important news announcements and updates where delivery of the story to all media at the same time is important and where interaction with journalists can help clarify and advance the story.
Press conferences are most appropriate when reporters gather in one location, such as a tradeshow, during political campaigns, when an issue of public safety is involved, or when scheduled in response to a PR crisis. Effective press conferences require extensive preparation and planning. Coordinating multiple speakers, handling the logistics and scheduling the event increase the complexity. In addition, reporters in a group can play “one upmanship” as they try to ask tougher questions.
Advice from PR Experts
Experts offer these recommendations for preparing and completing successful press conferences.
Newsworthy information. Don’t plan a press conference if you lack important information to share. Otherwise, journalists will not attend.
Spokespeople. Effective press conferences necessitate articulate, credible spokespeople. Jennifer Gehrt at Communiqué PR recommends typically scheduling two to four individuals who speak for three to five minutes each. Each speaker should have a unique message to make sure their messages don’t overlap. An agenda can help make sure they understand their roles and responsibilities. Extensive preparation in anticipating reporters’ questions and rehearsing answers can help them feel more comfortable.
Photo opportunities. Seek visually compelling locations and activities. A banner with your organization’s logo can help promote your organization. Related hands-on activities or demonstrations for reporters after the formal part of the press conference can help assure comprehensive and positive coverage.
Place and time. Mid-morning accommodates news cycles and usually aligns with reporters’ schedules. Because reporters are on tight schedules, hold the event at a place they can reach quickly and easily.
The logistics. Before reporters arrive, set the microphone volume and height, check the PowerPoint and its remote control, prepare any water bottles, and review any other details.
Remote access. Offer an audio or audio/video feed for reporters and news organizations unable to attend in person. Provide the remote reporters with means to ask questions of the presenters and access any printed materials that are distributed. (Some PR professionals advocate for entirely digital press conferences, saving journalists the trip to a fixed location but providing most all the advantages of a traditional press conference.)
Coordinating co-presenters. A presenter should conclude with a line that wraps up the section and introduces the next speaker. “Little is more awkward than watching co-presenters fumble while transitioning to one another,” advises Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations. “Good co-presenters are like teammates in a relay race; one hands the baton off to the other seamlessly.”
Press kits. Prepare a press kit that includes fact sheets, executive bios and other background information to distribute to journalists.
Beware negative spin. If you think a reporter is attempting to spin your news in a negative way, offer a positive response to their questions, says Al Rothstein, president of Al Rothstein Media Services. Avoid repeating a reporter’s negative language in your answer.
Be helpful. If you cannot provide an immediate answer to a reporter’s question, provide an answer as soon as possible.
Conduct a post-mortem. Meet with presenters immediately after the press conference to discuss how the conference went – and what more must be done to correct any errors or advance the story. Arrange individual follow-up interviews with key journalists.
Monitor coverage. Monitor and measure all media coverage (print, broadcast, online news, social media) that results from the press conference in order to gauge the reach and impact of the resulting stories.
Bottom Line: In the right circumstances, press conferences effectively deliver your PR message to multiple media outlets. Extensive planning and preparation is imperative for successful press conferences. If PR does not lay the groundwork, the media events can fall flat and even result in negative coverage.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.