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Press conferences

Press conferences are an indispensable tool for getting media attention. They can be organized by campaigners to present issues related to the campaign to journalists.

When can a press conference be useful?

  • If the stories to be told at the press conference are of major social interest, and perceived as such by media representatives.
  • If there is something important to announce, preferably linked to a significant event, e.g. at the launch of a national campaign, or when the campaign has achieved a significant milestone, e.g. a draft law on domestic violence is scheduled for discussion in parliament.
  • If a prominent individual (politician, celebrity) is present at a campaign event.
  • If there is an issue related to or associated with the campaign that receives media attention. In this case, the press conference should take place quickly after the fact in order to sustain attention, correct misconceptions if any, and reinforce key messages.

Issues to note when considering a press conference:

  • If you are not confident a press conference will attract sufficient media attention, it may be more effective to get your story across by working with a small number of trusted journalists, or by offering exclusive coverage of a story with one particular media agency.
  • The date and time of the press conference is important. Other newsworthy events may divert the journalists’ attention. Careful preparation and timing reduces this risk, but one cannot anticipate every possible newsworthy event that may occur. Reporters may also have different filing times for their stories, for example if your press conference is held late in the day, there may be limited interest because it is too late to file for either that day or early the next day.
  • Organize the press conference carefully – a botched event may result in no or even negative media coverage. This means that all speakers should be carefully prepped, press kits well-prepared with all the necessary information, and enough campaigners on hand to help with logistics, especially if a large number of media outlets are expected.
  • A good moderator is important to keep the press conference running smoothly and on message, and to help field questions from the media. The moderator’s role is typically to open and close the press conference, highlight the key messages to be put across, introduce the speakers, and be a time-keeper so that questions and answers are kept brief.

Practical Instructions

Before the press conference

Start planning several weeks before the press conference is to take place.

1.   Define the message

Your message should be summarized in 3-5 key points. If a date, a time, an address or phone number, or other specific information is part of the message, state it more than once, and display it prominently in your press kit. Double- or triple-check any such information.

2.   Schedule the date and time.

Ensure the date and time for the press conference does not conflict with other press events or media deadlines. Check with the local media and the wire services about such deadlines/events. Also, find out what the ‘slower’ news days in a week might be, then try to have your press conference on a “slower” day. For example, in the USA, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days for press conferences, as they are generally considered “slower” news days (barring any sudden or last minute news events). In many countries, the best time to schedule your press conference is between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., to ensure maximum coverage by the media. In some countries, breakfast briefings earlier in the morning could also be useful to offer to attract media attendance.

3.   Pick the site.

Choose a location for the press conference that is easy to reach and not too far for reporters to travel. Ideally, the site should offer visual interest and relationship to the topic – e.g. a government building, a courthouse, or a local clinic. Choose a place with little background noise (e.g. from traffic, telephones, aircraft), and which has adequate electrical outlets and extension cords for lighting and other purposes.

4.   Select and train participants.

Speakers must be knowledgeable and articulate. They should be able to handle press questioning and scrutiny as well. People with high credibility, such as local politicians, the director of a well-known organization, a physician or a judge may make effective spokespeople. Firsthand testimony from people affected by the issue can be extremely powerful and convincing. If survivors of VAW are to give any testimonies at a press conference, ensure they are psychologically ready for it, and that ethical rules are strictly followed. Plan for any difficulties that may arise for them during the event.

Tips for participants:

-      Be clear and concise – avoid using jargon, rhetoric, digressions or inflammatory language.

-      Assume the audience is intelligent – avoid sounding patronizing.

-      Do not fiddle with or clutch anything – it’s distracting and makes you appear nervous.

-      Appearance counts – participants should be dressed neatly and appropriately for the occasion.

-      Always tell the truth. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so. Do not exaggerate or give figures that aren’t backed up by evidence, and do not state opinions as facts.

Find a moderator who is experienced with the press and the issue. She or he will facilitate the press conference by introducing the issue and participants. The moderator also directs questions to the appropriate participants. If you are inexperienced with press conferences, attend the press conference of a different group to familiarize yourselves. Conduct a dress rehearsal, i.e. a private simulation of the real press conference. Speakers should have scripts to memorize the 3-5 key points, and to ensure they speak no longer than 3-5 minutes each. During the rehearsal, get someone from your group to ask challenging questions in preparation for difficult situations at the real press conference.

A suitable response to a tough or misguided question might be, "That's a good question, but it is not within the scope of this press conference. Our focus today is on...” If the question is legitimate but you do not know the answer to it, call on someone else from your group, or check out the answer and get back to that reporter later.

5.   Contact the media.

Create a comprehensive mailing list of reporters and editors at television stations, news directors at radio stations, and at major newspapers, editors at weekly newspapers and news wire services. Make sure you include reporters who may have covered the issue in recent months. Mail your press advisory about one week ahead of time to the media, and then again on the day before the meeting.

6.   Follow up with the media.

Follow up your press advisory with phone contact to the major media outlets on the third day after you sent it, and a second time the morning of the press conference.

7.   Develop a press kit and prepare a sufficient number of copies

8.   Prepare the room

-      Check the location of electrical outlets for microphones and lights

-      Set up the room with a table long enough to seat all your spokespeople, with name cards

-      Provide enough seating in the room for reporters, and room for their equipment

-      Display visuals as a backdrop to your speaker's table, e.g. charts and posters.

-      Have a sign-in pad for attendance

-      Have coffee, tea, water, and any other refreshments set up

At the Press Conference

  • Welcome members of the press as they arrive. Have them sign in, with their affiliation, and give each of them a press kit. Check the sign in pad to see which media outlets are represented. You may also want to make personal contact with major media representatives before or after the press conference.
  • Tape or video record the event, for your own records, and for possible media use in the future
  • Start approximately on time. Have the moderator welcome the press, and introduce the issue and participants.
  • Each participant should present for no more than 3-5 minutes, making his/her 3-5 key points
  • After all the presentations, the moderator should entertain any questions from the press, and direct questions to the appropriate participants
  • After about 30-45 minutes, bring the formal conference to an end. Thank the participants for presenting, and the media for attending. In many cases, you may want to encourage the media to stay for further informal conversation with the speakers.

After the Press Conference

  • Contact representatives of the major media outlets represented. If you can have a conversation, they’ll remember you when they need information about your issue. By looking through your attendance register, you should be able to determine which major media were not represented. Deliver a press release and press kit to these people, send a recording of the event, or schedule an interview with a reporter and one of the press conference speakers.
  • Review the press conference with others from your organization that attended. What went well? What could you have done better? And how will you improve the next press conference you hold?

Source: adapted from The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas, USA.

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