News Conference Tips
by Shank Public Relations Counselors
News conferences should be avoided. While they may seem harmless and even somewhat glamorous, news conferences can backfire and damage a company or organization’s position or reputation.
The attitude with many journalists is that they prefer an individual call or written news story over a news conference. But sometimes they are necessary for legitimate news purposes or if a boss or client forces the issue. If you have to have a press conference, here are some tips that may help things run more smoothly.
The news better be big. A mere announcement will end up with an empty room and an embarrassed boss or client.
If a well-written news story, media advisory or personal call can suffice for the story, choose one over doing a news conference.
Stage only the key players or principals. Elected officials and celebrities do not guarantee media coverage. In fact, because some personalities appear on camera so much, they can defeat the purpose of your news conference.
News conferences are effective as updates to continuing stories, especially unfortunate stories involving suffering and fatalities.
When you want to limit exposure of a principal, such as a victim of a disaster, a news conference can be a useful tool to give the reporters the information they need while protecting the delicate needs of the victim.
A news conference does allow all reporters to hear the same story at one time, but so does social media and electronic wire services. Be sure to weigh the costs of a news conference against the desired outcomes.
If you have to have a news conference, structure it carefully.
Spend time with your participants. Make sure they know their message points and how to make sure the message is included in the presentation.
Inform them of how the news conference will run, the types of questions that may be asked, and how to cut off a question.
Rehearse your participants. Throw the worst possible questions at them.
Make table tents to identify the participants. Don’t assume on the spellings, double check each one.
Provide a backgrounder to media with identification of the participants — including proper phonetic (fo-NET-ik) pronunciation of names and other materials for a media packet.
Establish ground rules for the media before beginning, if necessary. Tell them exactly how long you will be available and if there are questions you cannot answer. Let them know that you will try to get back to them on questions you cannot answer right now. If principals will be available after the news conference make sure the reporters know about it.
Invest in a good sound system for the room. Reporters hate to have to strain to hear a response and the coverage will be lousy if the sound is bad.
Use a multiple-box sound system so that each broadcaster can get a clear audio feed.
Don’t just give them “talking heads.” Provide visuals, charts and pictures for print media and “b-roll” for television.
If it’s an early morning event provide coffee and breakfast rolls for the media.
Have a sign-in sheet for everyone who shows up at the news conference. This will help with follow-up and security.
Don’t be afraid to deny admission to someone who has no business in the room. A news conference is not a “public” event.
Record the event yourself. Hire a videographer if possible, but at the very least have an audio recorder or pocket digital video camera on the table. This record will be invaluable for documenting questions and responses for accuracy. It can also be used as a training tool for future news conference.