A few weeks ago, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made headlines by announcing that the Fed would hold a news conference. You read that right, he made news by announcing he’d have news to share. This was news because banks, investors, lenders, economists and the financial media hang on the Fed’s every move.
Too often, executives want their public relations team to arrange for a news conference to make an announcement, share a milestone, issue a statement, etc. But a news conference may not be appropriate and it’s important to keep in mind that news conferences aren’t necessarily newsworthy.
(BTW, I prefer to use news conference over press conference, because press doesn’t accurately describe the audience you are trying to attract.)
So when do you actually need to hold a news conference? Here are four reasons:
- You have news that everybody wants to know about. These tend to be best served for major economic development announcements, a serious public safety issue, response to a major organizational crisis, any announcement for a product that begins with a lowercase “i” and a few other scenarios. Bottom line: The more people affected by the announcement, the more appropriate the news conference.
- You expect the media to have many of the same questions. The main point of a news conference is expediency. If you can have a few phone conversations or face-to-face meetings with a few journalists, you don’t need a news conference. Bottom line: If you expect drones of media to be calling and asking you the same questions, hold a news conference.
- You have a visual. This is especially true for working with television news. Nothing is more boring to a television news director than a bunch of talking heads behind a podium in a drab meeting room at a hotel or convention center reading a verbose speech written lots self-serving statements. The same holds true for the whole large check and ribbon cutting with extra large scissors. Those might be good for your own website, e-newsletter or even a printed newsletter or magazine, but they don’t make the news because if the media did that, that’s all they would have time to cover. Bottom line: If you have a visual that people must see for themselves, hold a news conference.
- You have a guest speaker with serious media cache. If your spokesperson is a well-respected professional and highly regarded in their field, guess what – the general public still doesn’t know who they are! If your spokesperson is a local celebrity who is in the news all the time or not necessarily a household name, even that person might not be a draw. Most local news outlets are appealing to the general public. Bottom line: If your spokesperson is somebody the media and the general public is hungry to hear from, arrange for a news conference.
So if you shouldn’t hold a news conference, what should you do? A simple pitch is likely the best route. In today’s local Indianapolis news, a philanthropic act grabbed headlines. Indy residents woke up to news that Wishard Health Services and Wishard Hospital will get a new name thanks to an extremely generous donation by the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi. Wishard staff could have held a news conference, but they went a different route and it worked!
Other, more guerilla ideas include the flash mob, a rally, or some other publicity “stunt”.
The other popular method these days: the tweet. Yes, with 140 characters you can eliminate worries over scheduling a bunch of busy executives, checking the weather forecast every few minutes, podium and audio rentals, purchasing donuts and coffee, the big check and the big scissors.
When do you think a news conference is necessary? What alternatives have worked for you?