Press conferences are a great tool for getting a message about your brand or company out to the media in a quick and efficient way. Rather than sending out costly press releases, or making hundreds of individual journalist appointments, you can get your information across to a roomful of people all at once. Here are our tips from CEM to have the most beneficial press conference, and how to best get your message across in an effective manner. We’ve assembled some great tips for someone who is well versed in press conferences as well as the press conference newbie.
· Stay calm! Stay calm and focus on facts over emotion (more on this later). Staying calm tells the journalists in the room they are not going to be able to get an emotional reaction from you, perhaps getting you to say something you will wish later you hadn’t said.
· Don’t sit! Stand rather than sit. A table is a barrier between you and the reporters. Sitting also suggests a psychological lack of energy. Not to mention, a podium is the best way to allow yourself to read notes, while allowing media to attach recording devices or microphones.
· No family! Press conferences are a place of business. Keep your personal family and friend attendance to a minimum.
· Keep control! Control your message. Plan ahead and know exactly what message you want to be sent. The less you say, the more likely it is the news will publish your intended sound bites. The more you say gives the reporters more to decipher, and increases the chances of your message being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Keep your message as short and simple as possible, journalists are busy. You don’t want to irritate them by keeping them too long.
· Admit your mistakes. If you are holding a “crisis press conference” admit your mistakes. Honesty is always the best policy. If you attempt to “throw other people under the bus” it will only make you look bad and will almost always come back to haunt you. Telling the truth will not harm your reputation as much in the end as lying will. The key to admitting your mistakes is atoning for your wrong doings, admitting to them and looking forward to a bright future. In this situation Forbes.com says that “you can’t reverse the past, but you can attempt to have an honorable future.”
· Use facts instead of emotions. There is a time and place to be emotional and a press conference is almost always not one of them. Remember, journalists and the media are to report on facts, and in most cases not emotions. Keep a level head, you’ll almost always regret getting too overly emotional and reacting emotionally at a press conference.
· Tell the truth! Especially in crisis press conferences, “The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation” (Forbes.com). If you’ve wronged someone or something, you’re better off admitting it. If you don’t, and the crisis is big enough, it will come out eventually. Better from you than a “beat writer”.
· Be helpful. Try to answer as many questions as you can. If you are unable to answer a question, tell the media you’ll have the appropriate department or person answer that question at a later time, preferably as soon as possible. There is nothing worse than a journalist who feels ignored. They’ll try to find the answer on their own, and may discover an answer, different from the one you want them to provide.
· Consult a professional! We highly suggest you select a team of professionals to advise you before going into any press conference. Have a plan for how you will answer any difficult questions. Having a plan will help you control the ultimate message you are trying to send. It is not weak to be advised by a PR team on how to best get your message to the media. Trust us, especially when communicating any type of crisis communications, you’ll be glad you did!
· Keep speakers to a minimum. People speak and interpret things differently, the more people that speak, the more cloudy your vision or message will become. Send the person with the most public relations experience out to speak. If you have an inexperienced team, make sure they have a strong PR individual advising them ahead of time to help them prepare. Assigning one person to address the press also cuts down on the likelihood that you and your company / brand will be misquoted.
· Remember your audience! Don’t let the “beat reporter” in the front row get you flustered. Remember that the reporter is not your final audience. Keep in mind that the reporter is simply your avenue for getting your message across. Keep your message as direct and down to earth as possible, so that the key people watching the press conference or reading quotes in the paper the next day understand your message.
· Don’t play favorites with reporters! If you are well versed in press conferences, then we know that in your career, you have developed favorites or non favorites when it comes to reporters. We know that some reporters have more influence than others, but don’t play favorites, it will only back fire later on. Treat all members of the media courteously and with even keeled respect. Journalists can become your best friend or your worst enemy, attempt to avoid that by being professional at all times, under all circumstances.
· Keep an eye on that “beat writer” in the front row. Journalists in general are very good at spinning things, especially the one’s known as “beat writers”. These type of writers are experts at spinning your message and trying to infer either a positive or negative response from you. Be aware of their methods, and prepare in advance for their questions with your PR advisor.
Press conferences can be a great way to give out information about your brand, company or changes to your company. We cannot stress enough how important it is to plan for them in advance, and to have a strong PR professional advising you on the best way to get your message across. A press conference is like any other media interview, journalists want information, and you have to make a plan to get them the exact information it is that you want them to have.