Lesson 24: Death by News Conference

By Gerard Braud


Many reporters fear what I often call “death by news conference.”

In lesson 17 we discussed the concept of committing news as a premeditated act. Reporters hate to cover news conferences for two main reasons. The first reason is because usually there are way too many spokespeople saying little if anything newsworthy, and secondly, because the location and setup are so poorly managed that it makes for a bad visual setting, especially for television.

Over the years I’ve witnessed three main approaches to news conferences. There is the news conference held in a conference room or pressroom; there is the news conference held outside under a tent; and then there is the news conference that I would describe as a show and tell event.

I like show and tell events the most. I hate outside under a tent events. The conference room or pressroom events vary.

What I like best about the show and tell events is that they are more visual. In lesson 17 I describe a media event that was held at a boat launch. The spokespeople did dockside interviews; then we put the spokespeople in boats with reporters, where the spokespeople were trained to deliver key quotes while in the boat and especially while on camera.

When planning a show and tell event, location and logistics are critical. And because these events may be outside, you need to consider weather forecasts and what your contingency plans are if you are sacked by inclement weather. Some show and tell events may be inside a factory or distribution facility. In these locations, sound and lighting may become problematic. If it is too noisy, reporters may not be able to hear the spokesperson and the background noise will be problematic for both radio and television crews trying to record audio. If the facility is dimly lit, has too much florescent lighting or a mix of both ceiling lighting and sunlight through doors and windows, photographers for television and print may have difficulty getting the images they need without adding their own complicated lighting to the mix.

My suggestion is that when planning a show and tell event, hire both audio and lighting experts to assist with the planning to make sure you meet the needs of news crews.

Under a tent events tend to follow ground breakings. A ground breaking is not news, yet many executives continue to think it is news. Usually the ground breaking is preceded or followed by a news conference under a white tent, in which the top executive serves as key spokesperson and master of ceremonies, and includes a thank you to every person under the sun (or under the tent). Then the executive turns the microphone over to an army of politicians who will do anything to get on camera. To add insult to injury, usually the tent shades the spokespeople and the daylight behind the spokespeople creates what photographers describe as a back lighting nightmare. Bright sunlight behind a spokesperson makes their face look dark. It is nearly impossible to add enough light to compensate for the bright sunlight. The problem gets even worse when the spokesperson has dark skin.

A few other notes about these ground breaking events. Most are really geared toward an internal audience of close associates who need to receive a thank you. That is not news and don’t ever believe the media will include that in the news. Additionally, know that many reporters go to these events only because they need to ask a politician a question about another issue they are covering. That politician can often overshadow your event, and in many cases, will create a negative association that you should avoid.

As we move inside to the pressroom or conference room event, we face two extremes. One extreme is the blank wall seen behind the spokesperson, and the other extreme is the attempt to place logos either on the lectern (podium) or behind the speaker. Logos are designed to create greater awareness of your organization and brand. As a rule, when there is bad news to discuss you do not want your logo seen anywhere. Conversely, when there is good news to share, the best option is to have a series of small logos on a wall size, non-reflective banner behind the spokesperson. Professional sports teams usually do this well, combining their logo with that of a corporate sponsor. Of course, before sponsoring any organization and splashing your logo behind a spokesperson, you should consider whether you really want to be strategically associated with that organization. If the team wins, you win. If the team loses, do you lose by association?

Government agencies tend to fall into a unique situation with their briefing rooms. The White House and Pentagon are good models to follow, with a blue curtain behind the spokesperson and a lectern logo.

When hosting a full-blown news conference, consider hiring an audiovisual company to provide professional lighting and audio. Professional lighting will keep the media from having to set up their own lights, which can be very harsh and make the spokesperson look bad. Professional audio means that one microphone can be placed on the lectern, with a single audio cable running to a multi-box where the television and radio crews will set up. Each news crew then takes their audio from the multi-box, eliminating the need for news crews to place their microphones, microphone stands and massive microphone logos on the speaker’s lectern. When a lectern is crowded with microphones, three things happen: often the speaker has no place for his or her notes; the speaker attempts to adjust one microphone, causing an avalanche of falling microphones; or as the first news crew gets bored, they attempt to remove their microphone while the spokesperson is still speaking, breaking the spokesperson’s concentration.

So, to recap – commit news, make the event visual and consider the needs of the media when it comes to location, sound and lighting.

In our next lesson, we’ll discuss Social Media Training and how the internet should affect your behavior.

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