How to Organize A News Event
Press conferences are news events. They are generally reserved for announcements of particular interest to large numbers of people. Media briefings, similar to press conferences, are designed to educate reporters about complex issues in an informal setting. The best press conferences and media briefings are those that generate news and are well organized.
Organizing the Event
If you decide a press conference is right for your announcement, ensure it is executed smoothly by paying close attention to details.
Select an Appropriate Day and Time
Plan a press conference as far in advance as possible. Check the event calendars of other organizations and local newspapers for conflicts, and schedule a time convenient for reporters (e.g., don't schedule or expect television media to attend an event two hours before the evening news). Midweek days and middle to late mornings and early afternoons are ideal for press conferences. Avoid Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as early mornings, late afternoons, and evenings. Press conferences should not last longer than one hour, including a question-and-answer period. Scheduling news conferences at times when a light meal or snack can be provided may promote greater attendance
Select an Appropriate Location
Choose a location that is convenient for reporters, provides maximum photo opportunities, enhances your presentation and message, and provides enough space to accommodate everyone (electronic media often have three crew members: reporter, camera person, and sound technician). If you expect television media, be sure to have good lighting, plenty of electrical outlets for equipment, ample telephones and parking. Avoid locations where problems may result from ringing telephones, loud speakers, highly reflective surfaces (e.g., mirrors, windows), or squeaky chairs. If indoors, arrange for a room that is enclosed, and protected from intrusion. Before you rent a local conference room or hotel room, consider sites that can help you get your message across visually (e.g., a press conference about emergency department overcrowding might be held in front of a hospital).
Set Up the Room
Decide and coordinate in advance how the room should be arranged. Should the room be set up in theater, school room, or conference style? Do you need a podium, head table and chairs, and a back drape? Do you need a banner, easels, and posters? Do you need microphones, a sound system, or an LCD panel for PowerPoint presentations? Do speakers have any other special needs?
In addition, try to gain access to the room at least two hours before the event to make sure it’s set up correctly. Be sure you have everything you need. Have your organization's name and logo displayed on the podium or on a banner behind the speakers.
Identify and enlist speakers for the event. Choose people who are articulate, enthusiastic, well informed, and appealing. If you have more than one speaker, designate a moderator and coordinate remarks to avoid duplication or conflict. Avoid enlisting too many speakers, because the press conference may become too lengthy and reporters may leave.
Develop an Agenda
Develop an agenda and maintain effective communication with all participants so they stick to it. If you see that controlling the release of information at a press conference is not going to be possible, you may want to consider using a different vehicle to get your messages across.
Outline and Rehearse
If you’re a speaker, keep your remarks brief, and refine your presentation both verbally and visually to focus on the primary messages you want conveyed. Anticipate questions and outline appropriate answers.
Don't dilute your messages by having too many. This could result in reporters deciding for themselves, which messages are most important.
Distribute a Media Advisory
Notify the press about the press conference with a media advisory at least three to five days before the event. (For information about how to develop a media list, see the article on "Establishing Media Contacts" and for more information about how to prepare and distribute media advisories, see the article on "How to Write Press Releases.") Make sure to send the media to all the appropriate daybooks (e.g., Associated Press, United Press International, and Reuters).
Prepare a Press Release and Press Kit
The press release should convey your message concisely, and the press kit, described in the How to Write Press Releases article, should provide supporting material.
Prepare Visual Aids
Visual aids are especially important for television coverage, but be sure your visual presentation is not overwhelming. It’s a good idea to have a poster with your organization’s name on the front of the podium. Consider hanging a banner with a simple, but compelling message or graphic behind the podium or placing charts or posters on easels on either side of a podium or head table. If there is a panel of speakers, put their names on tent cards, which sit in front of them at the head table.
Managing the Event
Effective management during the press conference is essential to its success.
- Greet reporters at the door and provide them with press kits. Have them sign in (make sure you have a sign-in sheet) so you have a record of who attended and can track coverage. If possible, collect business cards.
- Start the press conference on time or a few minutes late. Wait for a few minutes if you see camera crews still setting up.
- Have the moderator open by welcoming everyone and giving a brief opening statement. The moderator should present the main theme, provide a framework for the discussion to follow, and introduce speakers.
- Keep remarks brief and simple - three to five minutes for each speaker.
- Stick to the theme. Impart information that explains, supports, and elaborates the press conference’s central message. Speak in sound bites (powerful statements 10 to 15 seconds in length), give a logical presentation, and avoid rambling. Speakers also should look at the reporters (not into the cameras), and speak naturally. (For tips on conducting television and print interviews, see the article on "Effective Media Interview Techniques".)
- After the remarks are done, ask for questions. Smile and look at reporters who ask questions. Answer in a forthright, honest manner. If you don't know an answer, don't make one up. If a question steers you off track, be prepared to answer it in an informative manner that presents even more facts that support your view. Always go back to your main message, using as few words as possible.
- During the question-and-answer period, the moderator or speaker should recognize and ask reporters to identify themselves and the media outlets they represent. To avoid questions from members of other organizations or the general public, you may clarify at the beginning of the question-and-answer period that you are taking questions from the press only, and that you’ll be happy to speak with anyone else following the press conference. Then, if non-press representatives ask questions, politely refuse to answer them, and remind them that you’ll be happy to speak with them following the press conference.
When conducted properly, a press conference is an effective springboard for communicating, educating, and influencing policy. It's important to avoid calling them without justification because you risk being ignored when coverage is warranted.