When to Hold an In-Person Press Conference

Let me start by saying that I’m not a big fan of news conferences.

I can safely say that the greatest moments of anxiety in my 40-plus years in public relations have been those insufferably long minutes leading up to the beginning of press conference when, despite all the best preparations, there are no reporters around. No camera crews. No sound guys attaching microphones to the podium. No eager journalist wannabes working for the local shopping news.

The good news is that today, there are usually better options than holding an in-person news conference. Virtual news conferences are a great alternative. They are efficient, provide maximum flexibility in involving people from different locations and give you the opportunity to easily fold in additional elements, like video, images and graphs. Distributing news via email – with embedded video of your talking heads and even some B-roll – also can do the trick.

Traditionally, the best reason for holding a news conference has been its efficiency. In one fell swoop, you can communicate news to a host of media who, presumably, are interested in it. No need to coordinate a series of interviews when you can have everyone there at one time. In theory at least, a news conference can maximize your impact.

Except during times when it can’t. Like, say, when no one shows up. 

What I typically tell clients today who are contemplating a news conference is this: If there’s a good reason to hold an event to convey news to your key constituencies, perhaps news you want to celebrate, then go ahead and do so. If the media shows up, great. If not, you can still consider your event a success, and send video of it out to media afterwards. 

All that said, I think there are still good reasons to hold a news conference, especially if the answer to any of the following questions is “yes.”

Is the news you are announcing significant?

This is obviously a judgment call, but if it is news, for example, that would involve a public official – a governor, senator, mayor, et al. – and has implications for a number of people, then a press conference may very well be in order.

Has the news been on the public’s radar?

Has there been growing curiosity or concern over what you are announcing? Perhaps you are announcing that a case has been solved or that a fugitive has been arrested or a missing child found or that indictments have been handed down related to a high-profile investigation. If you’re putting a punctuation mark to a story, that may merit assembling the media in person.

Is it a visual story?

If your news, for example, involves a specific site, having a news conference at that site may be an essential part of the story. You might be announcing the demolition of one building to be replaced by another; that may be a good reason to use the site as a backdrop for the conference. Conversely, if you are holding a grand opening for a new building, you may want to have a ribbon-cutting as part of your news conference.  

Are you introducing someone of interest to the community?

Maybe it’s a new college football coach or incoming CEO of a major local employer. It could be a lottery winner or the school teacher of the year or the brother who pulled his sister out of the burning home. If you think it’s someone whom the media would be interested in meeting and talking to, then, by all means, assemble the troops.

These are not hard-and-fast rules and lend themselves to judgment calls.

What about you? When are other times you would consider holding an in-person news conference?  

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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