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If there is breaking news or an event that will draw high-profile participants like elected officials, entertainment stars, or athletes, this is the time to call a press conference. The news media offers an important and powerful means of communicating messages to broad audiences. Sometimes the attention a project receives is not necessarily positive such as when significant controversy surrounds proposed actions. Our advice is to take a proactive approach in working with the media to help ensure that their reporting best reflects your own message and position.
 
 

Press conferences involve an individual such as an elected official or a spokesperson making a statement and then allowing reporters to ask questions about the statement and possibly other issues. Press conferences can also involve more elaborate presentations: displaying graphic images and video, guest speakers, subject-experts, handouts, etc.

With the exception of late-breaking news, press conferences are usually organized in advance. Because of news schedules, the most effective times to hold a conference are between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Journalists are invited to attend and possibly to also observe a special event or take a tour.

Some of the advantages of a press conference are that many reporters can participate at the same time and all hear the same message. Attendance by the media will depend upon other news that day and the topic and its relevance to the mediaís audience. Attendance will also vary based on the integrity of the organization or the individual: calling a press conference to cover routine issues or just to get free publicity damages credibility and could affect turnout for future events. Keep in mind the different approaches for reporting news:

Press conferences are best for big special events or significant new developments.

Press releases are best for ongoing newsworthy items involving local people, issues, decisions and actions, and progress.

Interviews are best for offering exclusive stories, when requested directly by journalists, and for getting expert opinions.

 
 

1. Build a contact database

A media list should include reporters, columnists, editors, news directors, assignment editors and talk show hosts at all citywide, regional and community newspapers and television and radio stations. Begin creating one by asking a friendly local organization or local government agency for its press list. Other tactics are to scan the local yellow pages and call every media outlet listed or consult a national media directory such as Baconís directories or News Media Yellow Book.

2. Get ready

Well before a news event or crisis happens, appoint one person as the official spokesperson. This does not have to be the president of an organization; it should be someone who speaks with clarity and is composed under pressure. A pressroom should be large enough for the typical number of attendees including chairs for reporters and adequate space for television cameras. Have easels or tables for visual displays in the front; position a reception table outside the room as a place for press sign-in sheets and press packets; and have a podium with the groupís name and/or logo attached to it. If it is not possible to maintain a separate room or for outdoor events, create a banner with the groupís name and logo that can hang behind the spokesperson or speaker.

3. Schedule the event

Media should be informed about an event at least three to five days in advance. Give a brief synopsis of what will be covered. Follow up invitations with phone calls especially to key reporters. If the day will include a tour, make necessary logistical arrangements. Prepare press packets that include contact information for the spokesperson, a press release of the dayís event with carefully scripted quotes from the speaker(s), and relevant background information such as a history of the group or project, biographical sketches of key participants, charts or other statistics or graphic images, a copy of the document being released or being signed, etc.

4. Present yourself like a pro

Just like with a major speech, take time beforehand to script or at least outline brief remarks that capture key points. Then remember this advice, tell the truth. If you do not know an answer to a question, tell the reporters you will find out. Then make sure you do!

Do not ignore controversy or downplay bad news. This is your opportunity to communicate your position and prevent rumors and speculation.

Be cool. Resist displaying anger at reportersí questions, becoming defensive, or responding sarcastically. Depending upon the situation, it is appropriate to show emotions such as enthusiasm, concern, or compassion.

Speak plainly. Avoid jargon, speaking-down to the audience, or using too many statistics. If there is one number-related statement that is powerful and can be easily and accurately captured by reporters, give it; otherwise include these types of facts in press packets.

 
Updated
Wednesday 6/05/02 2:00.00
 
   
 
 
 
A moderated gathering of media representatives for the purpose of sharing newsworthy information.
 
 

You need to reach a wide audience to increase awareness about your project.

You know there will be significant public interest because the information directly affects them and their community.

You want to capitalize on the appearance of a well-known celebrity at a special event.

You are about to launch a major new initiative and want to establish rapport with local journalists.

 
 

You think every action your group makes is worth a press conference. Consider writing a press release, or carefully reevaluate the topic. Is this something unique or unusual or is it simply a routine issue?

You are highly uncomfortable speaking in front of others and do not have a skilled spokesperson who can moderate the press conference.

You are likely to be preempted by another event or story. For anything other than late-breaking developments, consider what else is happening in the community before you schedule a special event or tour for journalists.  

 
 
  Press conferences can be held anytime there is immediate, big news.