Media conferences – why, when and where

This article was written by Anthony Hasluck, Commtractor and  majority owner of Western Australia’s largest independent public relations agency, Clarity Communications.

Media conferences made a bit of a come-back during COVID-19.

We’ve all become very used to seeing them, even to the point where people who have nothing to do with media relations can start to spot nuances in the way they are organised and run.

Lots of people have asked us what we think of the PM’s and Premiers’ conferences; and on the whole they are doing a pretty good job in regularly communicating messages and meeting the need of the news cycle.

We’ve had many years of experience arranging media conferences for proactive announcements and crisis communications.

What makes them work well? Here’s our top tips:

1. Understand the “why”.
What is the purpose of your media conference? Do you have something important to communicate that the audience of a range of media outlets will want to listen to? If you’re not going to get a group, then issuing a media release and doing one-on-one interviews will garner a better result and build relationships with the media. Any media conferences must meet a media need, not just yours.

2. You must want to show visible leadership.
Demonstrating leadership is the main benefit of a media conference. It’s a chance to associate your company leadership with a decision, a new project, a step forward, or a resolution to a challenge. This was the approach of the PM and Premiers during COVID-19. If your senior executives or company owner don’t want to show visible leadership on an issue, that’s a valid decision. In that case, there are better ways of working with the media.

3. Balance a time that suits you and the media.
The media has timing requirements that might not be perfect for you, and you’ll have timetables that don’t suit them. It’s worth noting with very few exceptions, press conferences are not a matter of “call it, and they will come.” You will need to set a time that gives the media the best chance of covering your conference, and meeting their deadlines. We recommend between 9.30am and 3pm. Of course, in a crisis, all bets are off.

4. Don’t get hung up guessing the best day of the week.
There are arguments that some days are better than others, for instance a Sunday might be quieter with media looking for news. However, you’ll never know what lies ahead: Natural disasters man-made issues or company challenges thwart the best-laid plans. We had a big client media conference planned for September 11, 2001 which never saw the light of day. In a crisis situation, you will be holding your media conference on whatever day your incident is occurring.

5. Controlling the environment is critical.
If it’s inside set up the room to make your leadership shine. If it is outside same goal, but different concerns to focus on. Inside make sure your leader can face journalists in a neat group, has a lectern if they need to rest papers, has decent light and let the cameras set up lights to suit them but not blind your spokesperson. Outside, watch out for noise, wind, sunlight direct into eyes, and risks of passers-by yelling out. Your leader has to star so give them the best chance and find a spot where they can enter and exit without being pursued by questions if it is contentious issue.

6. Taking charge of proceedings will bring order and structure to the media conference.
Everyone will appreciate an overview of what’s about to happen and the rules. Act as MC/moderator, introduce the format, introduce your leader, control the questions, particularly if you know the journalists by name, and wrap things up when questions start to head off topic.

7. Provide information that matters to the media.
Media releases obviously work but even a page of key dot points will do. Journalists do a remarkable job, often getting across a topic they’re not familiar with, asking sensible questions, taking notes, and posting on social media all simultaneously. Have some empathy and give them some information in a format they can use when back at their desk or studio.

8. Preparation is key and there is no excuse.
Journalists will be using their smartphones to record video and audio. It’s a powerful gadget and you’ve got one too. Your leader should never be saying something for the first time in front of a camera, so get them to practicing 30 minutes in advance. Film them delivering their statement and answering questions. There’s no excuse for not practicing and knowing in advance how you’ll look on camera. It’s like an athlete warming up, if you don’t do it, then things may go badly.

9. Finally, know what else is happening in the news that day.
There’s nothing worse than being blindsided by the fact your competitor has just announced the market is terrible, while you are saying it’s great. Or you’re announcing new investment and the Government’s talking about reforms that will affect it.

Think through and implement all of the nine points above and give your media conference the best chance of having the desired effect.

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