I sometimes have to explain to clients—not without some regret—that a press conference is not the ideal solution for their announcement. If the first image of a press conference that comes to mind is that of cameramen tripping over each other and an unending series of blinding camera flashes, we have television and the movies to thank. Reality is usually very different.
If an announcement isn’t significant enough, and does not fall within the admittedly subjective concept of public interest, it might easily be overshadowed the day of.
A plane crash, the death of a celebrity, a political crisis are all newsworthy items that could derail the event. And a press conference with no press in the room is the worst nightmare of any PR professional.
Although I am not one to predict the end of press events, I am a strong supporter of the idea that a press release and targeted interviews can often get the job done just as well.
Let’s face it: mobilizing media is increasingly difficult. The immediacy of web content, reduced newsroom staffing, and the cost of on-the-ground media coverage mean that news editors think more than ever about assigning a team to cover an event. Keep in mind that covering a press conference requires the attending media outlet to mobilize a full team.
As a public relations professional, there are several things to consider before planning a press conference. First, one must evaluate the potential interest for the product or issue, and take into account the reputation of the company or of the group initiating the press conference.
This first step is essential in the decision-making process. Positive and negative perceptions, as well as the nature of past media coverage garnered by the organization must be assessed. This is where an experienced professional can help draw comparisons with similar organizations’ experiences.
The decision to hold a press conference should be based on these simple criteria: is the milestone or advancement important enough to garner interest from the media? Is the news of public interest? Do we have a visual or some sort of symbolic show of action that would justify the presence of cameramen and photographers?
If it's not possible to reveal the crux of the announcement in advance, it’s important to rely on other aspects to attract journalists, such as the anticipated attendance of elected officials, of public figures, of senior management, etc. This type of information can provide the media with some indication as to the potential scope of the news.
The fact that we view our news as important is no longer a sufficient reason to hold a press event. Other channels are possible: an in-depth interview with a major media outlet, an in-house event with dignitaries and the production of exclusive content for social platforms are just a few of the interesting options available.
One must also be aware that a tricky question or even a poorly answered question can jeopardize any of the benefits of a press conference. What should have been a positive moment, can easily turn into a situation that causes more harm than good.
The success of a press conference depends on the capacity and competence of the spokespersons. To this end, I always recommend thorough coaching and simulations before any event of this nature.
Between you and I
Having now established some preliminary conditions for holding such an event, I have a confession to make: I love press conferences. But I clearly prefer successful ones. A good press conference can galvanize troops and showcase the progress of a company, a situation or an issue of importance to the public. It can capture an image of an often significant milestone.
The press conference remains relevant in a practitioner’s toolkit, but the work and stress involved must be that must be taken into consideration. Due to the many unknowns, such as media interest in the topic and the day’s events, its outcome is often difficult to fully predict, despite all our years of experience.
Planning a major announcement? Reach out to our media relations experts, who will recommend the best strategy and work with you to maximize the reach of your event.