How to Conduct a Successful Virtual Press Conference

virtual press conference

With COVID-19 shutting down most in-person communication, traditional press conferences just won’t cut it any more. Thankfully, most agencies and PR representatives transitioned creatively, to provide reporters and media with virtual press conferences. These events allow information to be distributed and questions to be asked in a remote setting, all while maintaining a face-to-face (albeit behind a screen) relationship with key stakeholders and journalists. 

Weber Shandwick Germany experienced the pressure of a virtual product launch for OPPO, a global smartphone manufacturer. OPPO came to Weber Shandwick for help planning a launch event to introduce the brand and some of its latest products to German media. Because of COVID travel restrictions, OPPO hosted one of the first online press conferences in Germany for top-tier media and partners.

Markus Tillmann, VP, client experience, Weber Shandwick Germany, said the virtual format was a success. 

“OPPO invited journalists and partners to experience their new products and features remotely in a branded, broadcast-quality event,” Tillmann said. “During the invite campaign, we saw excellent conversion rates, resulting in a strong turnout, a new captive audience and important media coverage for OPPO (140+ participants, 470 million+ in reach within one week after the event and 230+ reviews of OPPO devices in top-tier media).”

While virtual press conferences may take more planning on the back-end, when done correctly, they can provide a seamless, accessible way to deliver what media needs.

Know Your Platform

Finding the right tools to deliver your message is of utmost importance. For some, that might be as easy as sharing a Zoom link with reporters. But for others, especially concerning security and interactivity, a more robust or custom platform may be the way to go. 

For Thea Pecht, manager, community outreach at Catholic Health, the right platform was critical, particularly because of the seriousness of the health system communicating COVID-19 information. 

“We as a health system had never held a news conference this way prior to COVID-19,” Pecht said. “Reporters and PR professionals alike were forced to think of creative solutions quickly.”

Pecht worked with her IT team to turn the executive boardroom into a virtual press briefing room using Webex. The team set up the room with name-card signs, mics, and a presenting panel and backdrop with the Catholic Health logo. 

Tilmann noted the importance of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each platform. And, depending on the need, sometimes a custom platform will be best. For its work with OPPO, Weber Shandwick utilized Conference+, Weber Shandwick’s virtual press conference solution.

And if you can’t decide, it’s always ok to concoct a tapestry of tools to provide what you need for your event. 

Iris Shaffer, APCO Worldwide’s North America media relations practice lead, said it’s important to choose the “right vendor partners, and do not be afraid to combine two or more technology partners to get the best results—for example, combining a video conferencing service such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams with a professional conferencing service like Conference America.”

Shaffer also believes in the benefits of utilizing third-party services like third-party moderators, a unique toll-free number and passcode (to ensure only those invited are participating), recording and transcript, and Spanish-language translations.

Encourage Engagement

No one wants to sit through a 90-minute video conference, listening to one person drone on. Media, not to mention everyone producing the event, will lose interest quickly. Sabrina Browne, a corporate account director at BCW Global, sees virtual press conferences as creative opportunities to bring clients to life. 

“While there are many reasons to host a virtual press conference, reigniting growth remains a top priority for clients across sectors whose businesses have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Browne said. “Virtual press conferences play a critical role in helping to drive business growth, raising awareness of your business resiliency during the crisis and driving engagement around your new offerings or latest announcement.”

Browne acknowledges the reality of #ZoomFatigue and the importance of setting a time limit for your event. 

“It’s important to keep your virtual press conference informative, yet concise enough to capture reporters' attention,” she said. “A 30-45-minute window, max, is preferred for most reporters, especially if your press conference is early in the week, when many are filing deadlines."

And because of reporters’ increasingly tighter schedules, and the amount of virtual-events invitations they receive, it’s important to make an event worth their while. 

Engagement during the virtual event could take the form of a product demonstration, live polling, Zoom breakouts with select reporters and your executives, etc., Browne offered. 

Shaffer mentioned the importance of the chat box. In a traditional press conference, reporters may fight to get their question answered. In the virtual version, online chat can record all questions for stakeholders to answer even after the event is finished. 

“Ask participants to submit their questions via a chat box or other provided mechanism,” Shaffer said. “This allows you to group questions, so they are not redundant. It also allows you to flag the more challenging questions and then provide the spokesperson a few extra minutes to prepare thoughtful and thorough answers. If you don’t have time to get to all the questions, you have already collected them all and can respond to individual reporters after the event has ended.” 

Catholic Health records all pressers with an in-house videographer, which allows them to send the video to the media afterward, especially for those who might be unable to attend. The video also allows for the creation of b-roll to be sent to local radio and TV stations for their use based on press release content, Pecht said. 

Prepare and Practice

As with any new process, practice makes perfect. And while there may be a few hiccups, most media and communication professionals understand the dynamic of working with new technology, and quickly excuse small technological infractions. 

That said, it’s important to communicate with all involved prior, and like any good PR pro, plan for the possibility that a crisis may occur. 

Shaffer says a good practice is establishing a text chain with all key participants prior to your event, so you will have a second means of communicating in case something goes haywire. 

Also, since APCO started conducting full-on virtual press conferences long before the pandemic (they’ve found the media actually prefers participating from their desks), Shaffer can agree that staging dress rehearsals of the event can work wonders. 

We all know that technology is great and also that everything can go wrong,” she said. One or two run-throughs simulating every aspect of the event—from skillfully using the chat function to playing a video—are a must, Shaffer added.

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal