As a public relations firm owner, I get asked to host press conferences a lot. A lot of press conferences. Way too many press conferences. My first answer when is asked is why? It takes people by surprise, but there is a strong reason. Ninety percent of the time a press conference is waste of time for everyone involved – the media, the client and the public relations firm. Most times the information can be sent out faster and more efficiently in the modern age via social media. Even the current president of the United States rarely holds press conferences.
So when is that other 10 percent of the time when a press conference is actually needed? It’s when you have a good story to tell that has a good visual to make it work. Because of that, press conferences fall into five categories.
- The Have To: This is the press conference that must be done because people have questions and it will take too much time to answer all of them over and over again. The greatest “have to” press conference of all time came from Steve Spurrier when he announced he was officially resigning as the head coach at the University of South Carolina a few years back. He started his remarks with the immortal, “let’s get this over with.” Nothing screams “I don’t want to be here” quite like that phrase. And that my friends, is the “have to.” The only time you do a “have to” is when there are too many questions pouring in and you need to get everything done at once.
- The Make-Believe: This is the television drama trope. A room full of reporters armed with cameras. Each one of them has amazing hair. Each asks shrewd questions, which the person at the microphone dodges with ease and fires back with a dagger that gets the press laughing. And then the magic genie appears. Ok, the last part doesn’t happen, but a lot of people feel anything less than that situation at their press conference for the school bake sale is a failure of Hindenburg type proportions. The amount of media that will show up for a press conference is finite in the Upstate. Remember that.
- The Everyone Speaks, but Says Nothing: This is a favorite of many public relations firms. Get 10 people shuffling to the podium like cattle to talk for 30 minutes and say absolutely nothing of value until the last 30 seconds. It is the inverted pyramid of reporting news gone completely wrong. It is kind of like listening to the latest Nicki Minaj songs in that respect. Save the something of value part.
- The Photo Op: This is the press conference where people arrive to get their picture made doing something like shoveling dirt, blowing up a building or cutting a ribbon. The speaking part is fluff. The cameras are here to rule the day and rule they will. So, make their job easy and give them something good to shoot. Don’t forget to tell the media you have something cool to show them like shooting a Tesla Roadster into space. They appreciate it. And they are more likely to show up.
- The Late-Bloomer: The event starts at noon, but the actual speaking part doesn’t start to 12:30? Did you tell the media noon? Are you now wondering why they are giving you dirty looks? That’s because you told them to show up for something that they have no use for whatsoever and then wasted 30 minutes of their time. Not cool.
Now, that I have told you about the kinds of press conferences that exist, don’t they sound terrible? How do you avoid them? The first is to make these things an event where a lot of people are invited to announce something. The goal is simple. You are sharing information with your key people: employees, board members, sponsors, etc. They are your focus. Having the media there adds to it. Giving the media a strong visual will get your story out there.
Getting your story out there is the goal. The press conference is a crutch for it. Not the reason.