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How to hold a news conference
Posted: February 17th, 2009 @ 10:05pm
A news conference is not unlike a child' s birthday party. You want to put together the right elements to get people to come, to give them what they want, and to make your family happy. This requires planning and a sensible location, it requires bringing the right entertainment -- this is an analogy for the real news you bring to the event -- and it requires inviting and re-inviting the guests.
There are six points to consider:
- News release
Make it picturesque if you can, to satisfy video cameras and newspaper photographers. This can be as simple as a river shoreline at the site of a fish kill or a spewing pipeline. If you don't have such a location, then choose a downtown location that everybody in the media can find, such as a big hotel, the steps of city hall, or the office of your organization.
It's bad to schedule a press event after about 1 p.m. By that time, other, hotter news events could pull the reporters away. 10 a.m. is usually a good time. And avoid Fridays, because a lot of reporters are swamped with their "weekenders" or Sunday stories.
Fax out an advisory at least a day but not more than three days before your event. This is the "invitation." It should have the five W's: Who, What, When, Where, Why, with the "why" being a one-paragraph dramatic explanation of why this is news, why viewers and readers will want to know what happened here. It is essential that you call each newspaper, radio or TV station to find out "if you got our fax." If they feign ignorance, send it again. Don't quit until somebody appropriate -- a reporter or editor -- confirms they have it in hand and tells you whether they will send someone. Send out the advisory again on the morning of your event ... if you can fax before 8 a.m., you won't get as many busy signals. CALL AGAIN. Don't fear annoying them with your gentle persistence. They don't mind annoying you. Some reporters will try to persuade you to give them an advance copy or agree to an embargo. Resist. Play fair with everyone, and they'll all come back again in the future.
It's always tempting to load up a news conference with as many speakers as you can find. Resist. Remember it only takes one talented magician to entertain 50 kids. Two or three speakers is a good rule, four max if you can't help it. Set out a pad of paper and title it "SIGN UP SHEET" with columns for Name, Newspaper/Station and Phone Number. Greet reporters and ask them to sign up. Provide paper -- reporters love paper in case they forgot to take notes -- in the form of fact sheets, the text of any statements or speeches, and a news release. Use other visual aids for video shots: a banner, a graphic chart, a blown-up photo.
Make statements brief, punchy, never ponderous. Agree with your partners in advance who introduces, who goes first, second, third, and who will answer questions. After questions, offer your people for taped interviews with radio and TV reporters. Stick to your message. Never say anything off camera that you don't want on camera. Don't go "off the record." Ever tell your brother a secret and get burned? And reporters aren't even your relatives.
During or after the news conference, fax out the news release to all outlets. Call everyone who didn't show up.