Do We Need to Hold a Press Conference?
We have all seen press conferences on TV and read quotes from them in the newspaper. How do you know when the time is right to hold a press conference for your organization?
Here are a few indicators that a press conference could be advantageous:
Journalists are already on site trying to get information and / or you are overwhelmed by press inquiries regarding a recent event
Something is about to happen that will generate a high level of media interest and providing context ahead of time is important
Your organization has enough information to make addressing the public worthwhile, even if all the facts are not yet available
You have now determined it's time to hold a press conference... What's next?
Here are some basic points to remember when you've made that decision:
Make the decision who will speak at the press conference, and who will be available to answer questions. Who addresses the media makes a strong statement about your organization's take on the situation. The most serious events demand executive-level leadership to reflect your organization's attention to the matter at hand. Less critical events can be addressed by a spokesperson or subject matter expert.
Establish what facts are known and what remains unknown (especially in evolving situations). Journalists may ask anything, so it's important to differentiate facts from speculation.
Prepare the person or people who will be addressing the media. Make sure they are armed with the facts you've gathered, and are aware of assumptions or speculation within the organization that have not yet been confirmed. Take whatever time possible to brainstorm what questions may come from journalists, and talk about how to address those questions. It's especially important to go over questions you hope don't arise, or the ones you may not have the answers to. Rehearsing well-thought-out responses to the tough questions helps avoid serious discomfort to the spokesperson on camera.
If time allows, prepare a press packet (hard copy or digital) to distribute to media. This saves journalists time and effort with key facts, spelling of names, relevant policies, and much more. This practice is advantageous to you as well, as it provides a way to make sure reporters have accurate information at their disposal.
Establish ground rules for media when they arrive. Where will they be allowed to position cameras? Do they need to place their microphones or recording devices on the podium? It's normal to begin with a prepared statement, then take questions. Make those in attendance aware of what the structure will be, and specifically which representatives will be taking questions.
Close the press conference by making sure journalists have your contact information to follow-up with later questions. Also make clear if and when there will be another press conference scheduled to provide additional updates in evolving cases.
Each situation is unique and calls for careful consideration. For a more in-depth look at what goes into planning a press conference, you can watch this video with long-time Public Affairs Specialist Kevin Larson.
I offer training seminars in media relations and crisis-communication if you would like to build this skill set in your own organization. My contact information is at the bottom of this page or in the "Contact" tab at the top.