Press conference

Why press conferences generally don’t work

For most organisations, press conferences should be avoided. There are certain product launches or announcements where a press conference works. They involve stories in which every relevant journalist has to cover the story. Manchester United, for example, can get a journalist from each news organisation that has soccer coverage to attend. That is, alas, not the case for the majority of companies.

Most journalists find themselves tied down to their desk, and travelling across a city to come to get information that could just be written in a press release wastes their time. I once went to a press conference attended by only two journalists. This sort of attendance looks embarrassing – even if the participants are the most important journalists you want to communicate with.

Lis Lewis-Jones is one of many practitioners who has cut back on press conferences. She talks about when she first started working in PR: “I worked in house at Birmingham Airport. We regularly held press conferences and a variety of local, regional, business, trade publications and broadcast journalists would attend. I actually can’t remember the last time I organised a press conference – the media just don’t have the time or the resources to attend.”

It may be that ditching the word “conference” fixes the problem, or instead just meeting journalists one-on-one. When I reviewed Apple’s Aperture photo software for a computing magazine, the technology firm flew me out to Munich to their European HQ for a demonstration. I attended with a small group of other journalists, from various European countries.

It was not a press conference per se, and, as I understood it, other journalists were being shown the software on different days. So the fact that only half a dozen of us attended was not unexpected. The firm wanted to demo it to the press before letting us use it on our own computers so that we all understood the important features and how they worked. It was a smart strategy.

However, even when an announcement merits a press conference, it can go badly. I went to a press conference in Paris along with a Guardian journalist. He was hostile to what the company hosting the event was doing, and his questions were heard by all those present. The result was that every journalist listened to both the favourable angle the company the company wanted to project and to a very critical view, too.

This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)