When major, breaking news occurs we expect a news conference to quickly follow. Often a law enforcement spokesperson is first at the microphone. Politicians may be on hand to assure the public. When events are still unfolding, details can be thin and fluid. The media will jump through hoops to be there. Networks will sometimes rely on their local affiliated stations to cover. If it's a big enough event, of course the network will get its own reporters/producers/crews on the ground as soon as possible.
There is another type of news conference that takes place in every market, every day. It could be a company breaking ground on a major new property. The community may be interested, But will the media see it as newsworthy? News departments only have so many resources and they need to choose their coverage plans wisely.
As an executive you may feel everything new your company does warrants news coverage. Or maybe you are the head of a non-profit and need the public's help with your latest fundraising efforts. Again, your audience may indeed be interested. But first you need to get past the gatekeepers in the newsroom who assign the stories.
With planned news conferences (not breaking news) there are things you and your communications team can do to up your chances of getting coverage.
- Give careful consideration on when to hold your news /press conference. If you are in a city where traffic is an issue (think Los Angeles) factor that in when choosing a time. Also since you are planning this in advance, check to see if there are other major events planned in your area that day that could compete for the media's attention.
- Be fluid. If a major, breaking news event occurs in your area on the morning you planned a news conference, consider rescheduling it. If your news is time sensitive, post it on social media. You could even provide your own video. Some TV news departments won't use this type of video; others will.
- Don't hold too many news conferences. Why? Those news gatekeepers will see it as "same old news." They want fresh content not an incremental development from your company or organization.
- Never have just one person designated as your spokesperson. Your CEO may be the best choice, but what if he or she gets pulled away at the last minute? Several people should be media-trained and ready to go.
- If you have a number of people scheduled to make statements and answer questions, plan in advance who will handle what. Give thought as to who will stand where so speakers aren't moving about behind the person at the mic.
- Start with a statement before taking questions. Names/titles of speakers should be announced but hard copy is good for clarification. Same is true for links to more information.
- Set some ground rules for your news conference. Your communications director can spell these out just before the news conference begins.
- Hold your ground, but try not to get into heated arguments with a reporter. Why? Because that will likely be the sound bite that makes air. Is this the real point you wanted to make during your news conference?
- That said, there may be someone in the crowd who is really there to get a rise out of you and make a name for him/herself. Make fast work of this distraction. You could say. "That's inappropriate. Next question." Real journalists in the group likely will appreciate you getting back on track and fielding their legit questions.
- Don't be surprised if a number of journalists want "one on one" interviews after your news conference. Of course you don't have to grant them access, but it's a pretty common request.
- It's a good idea to have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson available to answer questions either during or after the news conference. You don't want to miss out on coverage by the Spanish-language media. In my experience, most of these journalists are bilingual. But their audience may not be and so they may prefer Q & A in Spanish.
- Have one of your communications' team members record the news conference for your records. You could end up using some sound bites on social media.
- Don't forget to post your official statement on your website and social media accounts.
If you company or organization is ever facing a crisis, and decide to hold a news conference rather than field dozens of individual media requests, remember you need to take control. Crisis Communications is a specialty and advanced "worst case scenarios" training can be invaluable. You should expect the media to be aggressive and they will report whether you speak to them or not.