Press conferences – a thing of the past? 2 Reasons why they are still worth your time and effort. function of a press conference may have changed with the advent of warp speed communications from tweeting, FaceBooking, texting, Tumbling, Digging and Pinning etc, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have a place.

They do.

And if properly thought out and well-designed, a good one. Demographics and analysis tell us that the whole world has not made the leap to social media for its daily dose of news. People with money in their pockets, time, wisdom and life experience still use television and radio news and daily newspapers as the major source for their information about the world around them. Defying all predictions, I might add, but that’s a subject for another blog.

Press conferences can do these things:

  1. Tantalize –  A press conference signals to the media that you have an announcement to make of some import. Something that will have an impact on people’s lives, such as a new subway system, a new hospital, a major company moving its production facilities to town and bringing with it desperately needed jobs, the return of a rail line to carry car-weary commuters to the nearest Big Smoke, the advent of a life-saving medication, etc etc..

In other words, you’ve got something big and you want maximum coverage.

(Note: It’s still critical to send out “teasers” to the media – aka advisories – with where and when, but to keep your details under wraps until the conference actually begins. I usually give it four days, with a phone-around to news outlets the day before to nudge reporters through the doors.)

2. Expose your decision-makers to your key spokespeople, movers and shakers. News consumers want to have a look at their decision-makers. If there is heat to be taken, as in a crisis situation, viewers want to see how they handle it. If there is odour around a contract, they want television face-time from those responsible. Bright lights. Accountability. Do they scrim? Does it have the ring of truth? Are they mouthing memorized talking points? (Watch power and politics on CBC for a good dose of this. It’s a no-no, btw.)
And if good news is coming to town, they want to see their elected reps up there in front of the cameras and microphones, telling the story, dishing out the details.

If you “leak” your big announcement, the media will pre-empt the conference by running with what they know ahead of time.They’ll phone up and tell you they “already know” and are running with the story, so you might as well give them everything. If they get their hands on the content of a leaked news conference, they have no choice. Their editors demand it. And they won’t bother showing up at your press conference, because they won’t need to.

So have no leaks, off-record whispers, or deep-background conversations. Reporters are not compelled to honour these, no matter what they tell you. They value their jobs over their promises to a well-intentioned source.
Remember, you want to do it right. You’ve decided to go ahead; your announcement has the requisite gravitas. You want your press conference to run as smoothly as butter, and keep all the preliminary fast paddling and last minute fiddling right out of the media’s awareness or line of vision.

Plan,plan,plan.Expect something to go wrong, a surprise official to breeze in and demand time at the podium, (it happens), or a politician to arrive with speaking notes that differ wildly from what’s in your press release. Then have a contingency plan in your back pocket.

Most importantly, you want it to be visual. The camera is important in a press conference because more people are likely to see the conference on the news than they are to read about it.  I’ll write more on how to do it right in my next blog.

And remember, you can always contact me for help. That’s what I’m here for.

About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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