News conferences have come under renewed scrutiny lately; they’re the 21st century communications tool that gets no respect. With the advent of social media and other tools that enable people to “gather” and communicate remotely from all over the world, should we even keep news conferences in our toolbox?
The questions don’t stop there. How effective is a news conference in disseminating information? Do we define success by the number of media pros in attendance, the quality of questions asked or the amount/tone of coverage?
Effective communication today means getting your message where the eyeballs are. Will a news conference accomplish this? Will a news conference maintain, help or hurt your corporate reputation and your strategic communications efforts? Will you be able to measure results to ascertain if it was cost-effective and worthwhile? Which follow-up efforts would supplement the news provided and provide an alternate information avenue for those who can’t attend?
Evaluate a news conference’s potential to help you reach your goal, which should be to get favorable coverage of an issue/person/organization. Often, the news conference itself is seen as the goal, and the challenge is to explain to others that it is merely one among many means of promotion. With that, consider these communications alternatives, which can be used to replace or supplement a news conference:
• Information provided via text alerts, blogs, podcasts or RSS feeds;
• Conference calls with the principals and media offering real-time quotes and information, with no travel requirements; and,
• Making key people available to the media so that the venue and details can be individually arranged, rather than expecting everyone to show up at the same time.
For times when a news conference is the best option, here are tips that help ensure success:
• Non-verbal cues: Use appropriate symbols, visuals and backdrops to represent your message and organization. This is essential since the news conference may end up on YouTube or photos posted on Flickr with little or no context. You should visually convey your key messages and identify your company.
• Verbal cues: Clarity of message and choice of words are important for those accessing podcasts, television or radio news. Each speaker should reflect the same key messages and use plain language without acronyms.
• Strong supporting materials: Your PowerPoint presentation outlives the news conference and reaches a much larger audience if it is subsequently posted on SlideShare or other Web-based portals for sharing presentations. When creating it, keep this expanded audience in mind.
• Timing and staging: Past protocols for scheduling news conferences at certain times so reporters can meet deadlines fall away with today’s 24/7 media coverage. Try to choose a time that meets most needs but remember that the news and announcements can be immediately shared online and won’t have to wait for the next newscast or printed newspaper edition. Choose a venue with Wi-Fi access to facilitate this.
• Attendees: News conferences are for the media, but other key attendees include corporate partners, community groups and coalition members. Their presence will communicate cohesiveness of message and credibility of ideas. You multiply the reach of your message if these partners post your information on their own Web sites and blogs.
• Uncontrolled/controlled media: Remember that non-media audience members may also record the event and post to personal blogs and other social media sites. Follow up the conference with controlled media to balance the information that is publicly available.
• Peanut butter approach: The goal of a news conference is to spread the news evenly to all media at the same time. This cookie-cutter approach doesn’t help reporters who want other information or plan to cover the story in an unusual way. You might receive more positive coverage if a retail approach and a philosophy of “common message, many voices” is used. Follow up the news conference with opportunities for individual reporters to conduct one-on-one interviews and receive additional or more detailed information.
This article was written by Merni Fitzgerald, director of public affairs for the Fairfax County Government in Fairfax, Va. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.