The death of the press conference
The do's and don'ts of a dying art form
Press conferences used to be the ultimate showdown—newsmaker vs. reporter, mano-a-mano, cage-match style. But in recent years, they’ve become a paltry wisp of their former selves. Nowadays, you’re more likely to get political candidates scrambling off a bus with their pre-fabricated legions of sign-holding interns, hitting the steps of City Hall for a nice photo op—and giving a rousing speech to one reporter, some pigeons, and a homeless dude nearby (the exact scenario Boston Magazine teased Charlie Baker about during his recent “Had Enough?” bus tour).
So what happened?
First, there are the layoffs. With newspaper personnel down 40 percent since 2000, and reporters trying to fill gaps left by absent colleagues, it’s much more efficient to stay at your desk and wait for the campaign or company to email you photos and press releases. Second, the rise of the Internet means that interested reporters—i.e., bloggers—may be spread across the country. Avid Republican-watchers in Idaho may be more concerned about the fate of Charlie Baker than Worcester voters. That’s why blogging and tweeting and YouTubing become so critical—you’re reaching voters, but also ardent fans worldwide who can stir up the “media noise machine” for you.
- Don’t hold press conferences. Seriously. If news is breaking and a dozen reporters are calling, it’s certainly easier to make your statement once instead of repeating it a million times. But most often, a dozen reporters won’t be calling—and the work it takes to create a great press event (crowds, location, press kits, logistics) are a needless hassle.
- Release your news online. If Hillary Clinton can announce her campaign for President with a YouTube video, then you can, too. Word will reach everyone (including worldwide bloggers) simultaneously, and you’ve spared yourself the headache of a press event when you really need to be raising money and reaching voters.
- Invite the press to a real event, not a “press event.” If you’re already doing something cool—a conference for product users, a Get Out the Vote mobilization rally—invite reporters to that. Half the battle of a good press event is building an excited crowd. Don’t worry about concocting something just for reporters. Let them come along for the ride, and they’ll enjoy the authenticity.
- Is it a feature story? Reporters love trends, which are far sexier than regular daily news stories. Who doesn’t want to have the best nugget to share at a cocktail party—or in the next day’s paper? If you can make a case that your campaign or product ties in to a hot new trend (Everyone’s composting! Neon is back! America’s #1 fear is bee stings!), then coverage commensurate with your “vanguard status” will surely ensue.
Clients may ask—no, beg!—for press conferences. They connote authority, and the old-school days when reporters lined up to receive information when you said they could. Alas, those days are no more, and we have to adjust. Getting rid of this anachronistic nuisance is a good first step.Hey kids—prefer your information in video format? Check out my You Tube video on The Death of the Press Conference.
Dorie Clark–a marketing strategy consultant for clients such as Google, Yale University, the National Park Service, and political and issue campaigns–is President of Clark Strategic Communications. A former New England Press Association award-winning journalist, she can be reached at www.dorieclark.com and www.twitter.com/dorieclark.