6 ways to enliven—or replace—a boring press conference

Much like the throwback, all-caps press releases blasted to newsroom fax machines, the tried-and-true traditional press conference is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

The executive or politician standing awkwardly behind a podium, reciting watered-down talking points just doesn’t work anymore. Media loathe attending press conferences, and if they must attend, the stories merit no more than a brief mention.

Look at it from the media’s perspective. Outlets are understaffed and facing more competition. They need to distinguish their coverage from that of the other outlets, and covering the same thing everyone else is covering just doesn’t move the bar. Remember, exclusives sell and show their audience why they are better.

For PR firm clients, passing on a press conference is not an easy sell, particularly to in-house communications staffers who see the press conference as a way to showcase their work to executives. But more and more it is having the opposite effect, as fewer members of the media are showing up. There’s nothing worse than a CEO on a soapbox with no one listening.

Though it might take more work to pull off, here are some suggestions to spruce up your press event, and some alternatives to executives in suits standing behind a microphone.

1. If you must hold a press conference, do it somewhere that’s visually appealing. The lobby of the corporate headquarters rarely gets much media play, but a manufacturing plant certainly would offer more. At the very least, provide members of the media the opportunity to visit the facility to get some good visuals to fill out the information they get from the press conference.

2. Consider hosting a media roundtable instead. This entails inviting some targeted media members, no more than a small handful, for an informal interview with executives. This only works if they are free to ask questions, and your client answers them.

3. Try a conference call—one that allows media members to participate. Public companies do this all the time with analyst calls. It saves everyone time and is much easier than trying to pull off an actual event. Keep a recording of the call for those who can’t make it, and then get more coverage by posting a link via social media.

4. Do a media tour. If your client truly has big news, have them make the rounds to the various media outlets on the day of the news event. Remember, reporters can be busy, and bringing news to their desk just makes it that much easier.

5. Offer an exclusive to one outlet. This almost always guarantees coverage, but beware that you might upset other media. Even though they might not have covered the news anyway, they still want the option.

6. Bypass the traditional media completely and get the news out via social media or bloggers. If the news is truly newsworthy, the media will pick up on it, as most everything these days originates online.

When do you chuck these rules and hold a press conference? When your clients truly have news to present, to rebut, or to explain. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, could hold a press conference, and media would gladly show up.

(This blog item also appears on PRDaily)

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