Here Andrew Ogden, Managing Director at Broadcast Media Services, offers five top tips on how you how to stage a successful press conference, especially when a crisis hits.
Okay, something has gone wrong. Very wrong. And you’ve been in crisis management mode trying to get on top of it, to save or protect business, brand, and reputation.
If you are a well-known organisation nationally, or regionally, it’s likely that the media will be all over you.
Sometimes your media or PR team will be able to handle it all, but at some point, the CEO or the Managing Director and the top table team are probably going to have to answer some questions.
Now this can, of course, be done in a series of one on one interviews, shared out among your senior media relations team and the senior management team.
But sometimes, just sometimes, especially if you are still in the eye of the storm, it might be time to organise an old-fashioned Press Conference, where a whole swathe of journalists can at least get a little bit for the next broadcast bulletin, an update on the news website, a line for the next edition.
All in one go. The advantage is exactly that. Everyone gets at least something for their next report in one event leaving your team free to get on with managing the crisis.
Location, Location, Location
You need to find exactly the right place to hold a press conference. First of all, how many are coming? Where are they from? The BBC often sends multiple crews and reporters. Restrict them if you need to. If you can, issue proper invitations and so you can control the numbers and the room. You do not want an overcrowded media scrum. As far as an audience is concerned a badly managed scrum simply reflects an organisation out of control.
Stop the cameramen fighting. Cameraman – stills and video – need the shot, the footage, and are quite prepared to knock someone put of the way to get it. Give each camera operator a marked space and have a member of the media or facilities team show them exactly where they to set up.
Put in seats with the relevant journalist’s name on the seat. Standing press conferences look unruly full stop. Get your print journalists and your radio reporters sitting down.
Make sure your press conference team is a little higher than journalists on the floor. It means the cameras get a good clean shot. Also, the slightly elevated angle gives an impression of a top team being in control of events.
Make sure you have entry and exit cleared and make sure your top table conference team can get on and off the stage without having to pass through reporters. It looks clean and efficient.
And make sure the room where you are holding the Press Conference is close to the way out for the journalists. You don’t want them wandering through endless open offices where they can pick up bits of random information from walls, screens and from casual gossip with employees.
Pick Your Panel and Give Them a Chair
I’m a big fan of the Press Conference Chair. A person who is not there to answer questions but to Chair the event, field the questions and then put them to a member of the Press Conference panel. Oh yes, the panel. Always have more than one spokesperson. If you’ve got an operations crisis then it’s the CEO and the COO, a financial crisis then you’ll have the CEO and the CFO … you see what I mean.
This way your Chair can take a question from, let’s say, a BBC TV Correspondent… maybe they ask “So when did you first realise there was £2,000,000 missing from the budget?” Your chair can say “Okay, well I think that’s one for the CFO – she’s been working most closely on the forensics of the accounts, so CFO what’s the broad timescale of the events leading up to the discovery of the missing £2,000,000”. The Chair is there to stall and buy time for your spokespersons. While the question is posed by the journalists, examined, and re-presented by the Chair, your spokesperson has had a few seconds to get their best response formulated.
The Prepared Statement
A useful tool. Nothing too long, but a prepared statement at least says, clearly, in your own words with your main spokesperson saying them, exactly what you want to say.
The prepared statement should also contain the two or three main themes you should re-enforce during the conference that follows.
And a prepared statement at least gives all the journalists something. They’ve got a quote, they’ve got a picture, they’ve got audio, they’ve got footage. It can just calm their need to leap up bellowing questions.
The Rules of Engagement
A Press Conference is not a free for all. There should be a defined start when entry doors are closed. Any journalist late should be excluded from the room.
Your spokespersons and Chair should enter from the side of the platform.
And there should be a defined end stated right from the start. Managing time and expectations is vital. Right ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. We’re giving you 15, 20, 30 minutes of our time and then we really have got some more work to do… that sort of thing.
Your Chair should introduce themselves and the spokespersons. There should be names and title boards in front of the top table team.
There must be only one question and one supplementary per journalist. Your Chair should strictly enforce this. It stops one journalist trying to make a name for themselves by hogging the conference.
The Chair should share the questions out.
Any repeat questions should be ignored if you think you have answered the point well already. Of course, if you think you made a mess of it, the Chair should allow it!
And when the end of the allotted time is coming the Chair should say Right just time for one last question and when that is dealt with its Thanks and Goodbye, all rise and leave the platform the way you came in.