• Organise a successful press event
Press conferences are appropriate to mark a major event or announce important news, where the ability to see results at first hand, or to question the personalities involved, will bring added value for journalists. Another justification is to give a general briefing about a topic of current or emerging interest. This may not necessarily produce a great deal of immediate press coverage, but will provide journalists with a contextual framework for future announcements. It is nevertheless always preferable to provide a news angle that will justify the time spent in attending such an event.
Think particularly about visual possibilities for TV – facility visits, concrete results of research….
Press conferences can take various forms. They can be open to all journalists, addressed to a targeted panel in line with the subject and geographical area, or reserved for a limited circle of journalists seen as opinion leaders.
Whatever the format, success requires the mobilisation of substantial resources. Careful preparation may take between 15 and 20 days work full-time for one person, plus a presence on the day and for follow-up. Moreover, such an event costs money, and the costs should be calculated in advance.
This is not the type of operation that should be repeated too often; otherwise it becomes a drain on budgets and dulls the interest of the press. It is vital to weigh the value, and not to abuse the method to announce details that could easily be communicated in writing.
In some circumstances, it may be necessary to organise a press conference at short notice, but this should be avoided as far as possible. However, such eventualities are unlikely to arise in the context of FP6 project promotion.
- Press conferences are typically held in the late morning, but an early morning press breakfast or midday press lunch are also acceptable alternatives.
- Other media events can take half a day, or even a whole day, for example when they involve a visit to a project site or a laboratory tour – but do not forget that time is valuable to journalists. A number of elements can be combined, such as a field trip followed by a press lunch – or even something more ambitious.
- Before fixing the time and date of a press conference, make every effort to ascertain whether a conflicting event may be taking place, which could divert your target audience. Ask a known journalist to check his/her diary, or – if you intend to hold your event during a conference or exhibition – check with the organisers to determine whether another participant has similar plans.
- Ensure that the invitation includes all the facts that journalists need to know – who, what, why, when, where, how – and include any additional information that will help convince them to attend.
- Issue the invitations two to three weeks in advance. Send two copies of the invitation to the editorial office: one for the journalist and one for the editor-in-chief. Be specific about any costs – travel, accommodation, etc. – that you are prepared to support.
- Do not assume that all journalists invited to a press conference will be willing or able to attend. To assemble ten journalists, for example, you may need to extend invitations to double that number.
- Choose a central location with easy access; attach a map with the invitation, and make arrangements for parking and/or transfers from the nearest transport terminals.
- Journalists are only human – an attractive or unusual location just might prove instrumental in encouraging their attendance.
- Prepare a full set of material for the journalists. This should include press release(s) covering the main message(s) being communicated, relevant background material, such as specially prepared press fact sheets, relevant publications and possibly brochures as well as handout versions of the presentation slides. Also include CVs of relevant people and a contact sheet to simplify journalistic follow up.
- Prepare suitable illustrations – graphics, diagrams and/or photographs. These can be provided on a CD, or a suitable website address supplied to enable the journalist to download them.
All press conference contributors should aim to meet certain minimum standards in the style of their spoken delivery and the quality of their accompanying presentations.
- Presentations should be prepared in detail with regard to both their contents and length. As with any form of media message, keep the contents simple and the messages clear. Do not go deeply into scientific detail; a media presentation is not a sector-specific scientific conference contribution.
- Support the talk with good clear slides, ideally in a PowerPoint format that can easily be distributed to the press in printed form or on disk. Develop a simple style and do not try to put too many messages on one slide. Use pictures, graphics and diagrams wherever possible and keep words to a minimum. A slide should support what you are saying, not provide your speaking notes.
- It is essential to rehearse presentations thoroughly before an event, and to verify their functioning at the location itself. To avoid compatibility problems, check in advance what type of audiovisual equipment is available, and in what form presentations can be accepted (laptop plug-in, CD, DVD, videotape, memory stick…).
Other practical details
- When taking responsibility for the organisation of a press conference, make a checklist of the materials and services that will be required on the day – from name badges and table cards, to public address and audiovisual equipment.
- Set aside a reception desk at the entrance to the conference area. Obtaining full particulars from journalists can form useful input for assembling an up-to-date database of press contacts.
- Make sure that journalists are collected and accompanied during facility visits, with competent people on hand to answer questions – and to ensure their safety.
- Have available a suitable area for TV or radio journalists to record specific interviews.
Be sure to note, and respond to, any journalists’ requests that cannot be dealt with on the day of a conference (e.g. providing specific pictures or additional background information). Building a reputation as a reliable information source and a person/organisation that delivers on promises pays long-term dividends.
Mail/email press kits to journalists who were on your invitation list but did not attend the event. This could well have been due to circumstances beyond their control.