(If you want to frustrate the daylights out of the invited media, start late, run on too long and don’t leave any time at the end for follow-up questions.)
I’ve written up seven tips to help you run a seamless press conference that makes the media’s job oh-so-much-easier.
They’ll love you for it.
Here they are:
1) Stick to your schedule. If you say you are starting at 11:00 a.m., start then. Not fifteen minutes later. If some members of the media come late, don’t worry. They’re pros. They’ll catch up or approach you with specific questions at the end.
2) Make sure the Go To person is identified. This is not the same person as the spokesperson or speech-giver. The Go To person is the organizer, the backer and filler. You’re the person who will grab the sleeve of a departing CEO at the end of the conference and make sure your media person gets that extra five minutes for a few more questions.
You’re the person who keeps media panic at bay by walking through the throng handing our your business card.
I’ve often asked quietly, “do you have everything you need?” You have no idea how this simple act can reduce anxiety in a reporter who got there late or a blogger who needs to go more in depth. They need to find you, so make it easy for them.
3) Camera: The camera is key in a press conference because more people are likely to see the conference on the television news or videoed and linked to a tweet, than they are to read about it in the newspaper. So make it visual – have a backdrop or active setting that gives a good message about the organization or ties in with the story. Avoid a blank wall at all costs. Make sure the video reporters have good sight-lines and can get good clear footage.
4) Sound: Use a sound system unless you are having a small conference in a room with excellent acoustics. Check the sound system in advance to make sure there are no overriding background noises that will make your spokesperson’s words sound fuzzy, or distract from the message.
(I learned this one the hard way: I organized a conference in the foyer of a local arena. When it came time for the CAO to speak, the air circulation system blasted on in the ceiling and nearly drowned him out. During our run-through, the system was quiet, and I didn’t think to check with the building management ahead of time about any unforeseen noises. Not cool.).
So check not only your sound system, but also the possibility of workmen hammering next door, or the chance something noisy might switch on at a critical moment and leave you looking and feeling like an unprofessional booby.
5) Have your press kits ready containing a release, a fact sheet (no release longer than one page if possible, put the rest in a point-form fact sheet), biographical material on the spokesperson(s), and a page of some anticipated questions and the correct answers. Make sure your boilerplate information (who your organization is and what it does) is up-to-date and immaculately accurate.
6) Advance notice: try not to give away too much – media won’t show up because you’ve already given it all away with an advanced press release, complete with fulsome quotes from your spokespeople.
I can’t think of a better way to kill your own media conference, especially in a smaller city where media are already stretched thin.
Four days in advance is a good standard – tell the media on Monday about the press conference for Thursday, and follow up with a reminder call either the day of the conference or the previous afternoon. Do not give them all the specifics, other than time and place, and don’t give them any quotes.
This ensures that the line-up or assignment editor has it on the roster in the newsroom, and ideally, it’s been assigned.
7) Optics: Using a smallish room will make the press conference look more populated with reporters when the conference is shown on the evening news, thereby making the story look more important.
8) Opening statement. Have one. If you have two or more people speaking at the conference, write them a preliminary script and involve them in the process of reviewing and upgrading it. This will help them prep and increase their confidence level, which in turn will enhance their credibility. You may have to do several drafts before your spokespersons are satisfied, and by then, everyone should know the material well.
9) Have someone introduce the spokesperson — the person who organizes the conference is often the person who introduces the spokesperson, but not always. For the sake of credibility, it should be someone from within the organization, not an outside PR consultant like me.
Note: PR consultants can assist with the design and preparation of the conference. They do not speak for the organization. If, as a PR consultant, I have done the job well, you will hardly notice me. I may be handing out press kits, making sure spokespeople have everything they need, (eg., water, script, notes) and quietly arranging post-conference interviews, but I’m not supposed to be front and center, ever.
A good press conference organizer is a barely-visible minion, and a smoother and soother.