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The News Chair

So You Want To Hold a News Conference

Barb photo largerYou hear a few anxious coughs interrupt the echoing silence. You watch as the CEO nervously paces in front of the podium. You check your watch while your boss, the corporate brand manager, shuffles and reshuffles her papers. Your registration table is laden with perfectly-aligned media kits and name badges. But your sign-in sheet is bare. Your news conference was scheduled to start 20 minutes ago…WHERE DID YOU GO WRONG?

In most cases, taking the time to follow a few simple procedures will help ensure you will never be the main character in this media relations tragedy.

Analyze your subject matter to determine if it is truly news conference material.

  • Nothing will alienate the media faster than attending a news conference which deals with a topic of marginal news value or interest.
  • Begin by asking yourself, “Is the topic important, dramatic, timely and stimulating?”  Because news conferences provide opportunities for dialogue between the spokesperson and the media, news conferences are especially appropriate for controversial issues or complex topics that demand extensive explanation.
  • Can your subject matter capture media interest with plenty of visual opportunities?  Unless your spokesperson is a major celebrity, just providing a “talking head” will not attract media attention.
  • Also, consider that visual demonstrations during news conferences not only aid in explaining subject matter, but also potentially provide excellent photo and broadcast opportunities. Charts, maps, photos, document and logo enlargements — all professionally prepared — are also appealing visual aids.

Carefully choose your location, date and time.

  • Select a location that is accessible, familiar to the media and other invitees, and has plenty of parking. Consider the size of the room, acoustics, lighting, electrical outlets, public address system, podium, chairs, tables and coat racks.
  • If your topic happens to be a special event or a project with an unusual setting, consider having the news conference onsite. Be sure to provide the media with detailed directions to the conference location, and if it is to be held outside, you must indicate an alternate rain location.
  • Select a day that provides the best opportunity for potential coverage. Generally, slower news days occur earlier in the week, so think about scheduling your conference on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Although fewer media crews are available, weekends and holidays can be slow news days and should not be ruled out.
  • Select an hour that best accommodates media scheduling. As a general rule, late morning or early afternoon are best. Television crews need time to edit footage prior to noon or evening news broadcasts.

Notify the media in advance.

  • Prepare a list of all media to be invited. Be certain to include everyone who might have a legitimate interest in the subject matter. Don’t forget ethnic, religious or college papers, online media, wire services and bloggers covering your topic area. Also, as a courtesy, you may want to invite government officials, family members, important clients and other key figures.
  • Prepare a media advisory listing the event, speakers, date, time and place. Be sure to include the contact person’s name, phone numbers and email address in case of questions. Try to limit this information to one sheet of paper. Email or tweet links to these advisories approximately a day or two prior.
  • Follow up your media advisory with a phone reminder the morning of your event. Keep the call brief and to the point … ask if they received the advisory and if they are planning to attend.

Assemble materials for the media.

  • Provide the media with a complete informational packet, a “media kit.” Use a folder and include the following: a news release summarizing the announcement, the speaker’s biography and photo, a fact sheet on the sponsoring organization, renderings, and additional information that would enhance or explain the subject. Also, let the media know digital versions of the media kit are available.
  • Video footage and photos can also be valuable and effective background handouts for the media. These should be available digitally as well.
  • Be sure to have signage indicating the way to the conference room and a media sign-in sheet at the registration table.
  • As a courtesy, you may want to have soft drinks and coffee available.

Prepare the news conference agenda and counsel your spokesperson.

  • The agenda must be a minute-by-minute, detailed script for the event. Moderators, speakers and technicians should all receive an advance copy. Ideally, the news conference should last no longer than 30 minutes. Start your conference on time.
  • Prior to the event, participants should be briefed on the agenda and counseled on how to handle difficult questions. (You may want to consider professional media training for your spokespersons.)

Document your news conference.

  • Arrange for monitoring services (radio, television and print clips) in advance of the news conference.
  • Consider having professional still and video photographers document your event.
  • Post the content of your conference on your company’s website.
  • Immediately after the news conference, contact the media unable to attend. Offer phone interviews with your news conference spokesperson. Offer to supply the reporter with the media kit.

Final words of advice: no matter how well written, produced and rehearsed, your news conference may still be upstaged by a natural disaster, a coup d’état, or the warehouse fire down the street from your carefully chosen news conference location.

C’est la vie — on with the show!

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