John Boyanoski is the president of Complete PR, a full-service public relations firm located in Greenville, South Carolina.
As a public relations firm owner, I get asked to host press conferences a lot. A lot of press conferences. Way too many press conferences. My first answer when asked is “why?” It takes people by surprise, but there is a strong reason: 90% of the time, a press conference is a waste of time for everyone involved—the media, the client and the public relations firm. Most times, the information can be sent out faster and more efficiently in the modern age via social media.
Press conferences generally fall into five categories:
The ‘Have To’
This is the press conference that must be done because people have questions and it will take too much time to answer all of them over and over again.
In my opinion, the greatest “have to” press conference of all time came from Steve Spurrier when he announced he was officially resigning as the head coach at the University of South Carolina a few years back. He started his remarks with the immortal, “let’s get this over with.” Nothing screams “I don’t want to be here” quite like that phrase. And that, my friends, is the “have to.”
The only time you should do a “have to” is when there are too many questions pouring in and you need to get everything done at once.
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This is the television drama trope—a room full of reporters armed with cameras. Each one of them has amazing hair. Each asks shrewd questions, which the person at the microphone dodges with ease and fires back with a dagger that gets the press laughing. And then the magic genie appears.
Okay, the last part doesn’t happen, but a lot of people feel anything less than that situation at their press conference for the school bake sale is a failure. The number of media that will show up for a press conference is finite at the local level. Remember that.
The ‘Everyone Speaks But Says Nothing’
This is a favorite of many public relations firms. Get 10 people shuffling to the podium like cattle to talk for 30 minutes and say absolutely nothing of value until the last 30 seconds. It is the inverted pyramid of reporting news gone completely wrong. It is kind of like listening to the latest Da Baby songs in that respect. Save the something of value part.
The ‘Over Promise’
This is the one where you swear an oath to the media that something big is happening and they need to be there. But then nothing happens. The big speaker doesn’t show up. The access you guaranteed doesn’t occur. Instead of fireworks and a marching band, it’s a ribbon cutting. Now, sometimes the “over promise” is not the fault of the PR team. The big speaker was sick. The access was cut for time. But the visual is always controlled by the PR team. If you tell the media you are going to have fireworks and a marching band, then you better have fireworks and a marching band.
The ‘Late Bloomer’
The event starts at noon, but the actual speaking part doesn’t start until 12:30. Did you tell the media noon? Are you now wondering why they are giving you dirty looks? That’s because you told them to show up for something that they have no use for whatsoever, and then wasted 30 minutes of their time. Not cool.
More Effective Press Conferences
Now that I have told you about the kinds of press conferences that exist 90% of the time, don’t they sound terrible? How do you avoid them? And when is that other 10% of the time when a press conference is actually needed?
It’s when you have a good story to tell that has a good visual to make it work. So, what are some steps to ensure you create a good press event? The first step is to make these things an event where a lot of people are invited to announce something. The goal is simple: You are sharing information with your key people—employees, board members, sponsors, etc. They are your focus. Having the media there adds to it.
For example, I do a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity. When we have a house dedication, it’s not a press conference, it’s a celebration we share with the community. We include the people who are buying and moving into their new home, the build partners, and other people in the community welcoming their new neighbors. All of this gives the media who attends numerous ways to tell and share the story.
The second step is giving strong visuals and more than one, if possible. Going back to Habitat, a house dedication has several visuals for the media to choose from: the family getting their keys, opening the door, meeting the neighbors, etc. It’s not just one person at a podium. Also, letting the media know you have strong visuals will help them show up.
The third step is making sure to get the correct information to the media. This means a press release that can be emailed or handed out (I prefer an email), FAQs, social media tags to share the event, and taking your own short videos and photos to send to the media.
The fourth step is telling your own story. Make sure your website is updated. Share on your social media. Email the information to your key stakeholders.
Getting your story out there is the goal. The press conference is a crutch for it, not the reason.
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Author: John Boyanoski, Forbes Councils Member