Holding a press conference is a little like setting off a flare. Attracted by the noise and the promise of a good story, reporters will flock to your venue in the hopes of finding the next morning’s headlines. These media events serve as useful opportunities to share information and take ownership of potentially inflammatory stories before political rivals or unfriendly foes do. However, like flares, press conferences have the potential to burn a candidate if enacted incorrectly. In this post, I’ve outlined a few of the basic do’s and don’ts of holding press conferences for new candidates.
Have a good reason for holding one.
Never hold a press conference to share banal information, and only hold media events when necessary. Reporters’ time is valuable; if media representatives don’t think attending your press conference will lead to a good story, they won’t attend. Save your candidate the potential embarrassment of an empty room by only holding press conferences on subjects you know will draw a crowd. Schedule an event if you need to share big news or if the office phones are ringing non-stop for comment – but find other means of communication for day-to-day news!
Show up without a plan.
Press conferences place a candidate and/or his representative under intense media scrutiny. An off-the-cuff comment or half-considered remark can dominate the news cycle for days – so prepare appropriately! Have remarks and talking points prepared, and keep any communication brief. Keep in mind that press conferences should never drag on for over 45 minutes.
Have a press release and press kit prepared.
If you don’t provide reporters with a narrative about the news you share, they’ll likely dig for one themselves – and you might not like the story they settle on. Make sure that you present members of the media with documents that outline your positions and reasonings in a good light. Candidates should at the very least provide a press release overviewing the news they plan to share – however, putting together a press kit is preferable. Expensive as they are, press kits are useful; they contain background context for the issue at hand, the candidate’s position, argument highlights, related news stories, and biographies of conference speakers.
Answer unrelated or inflammatory questions
As I mentioned earlier, an unfortunately worded answer can negatively dominate the news cycle for days at a time – and often, reporters try to throw speakers off in order to get a juicy comment. If a media representative asks an unrelated or inflammatory question that has the potential to yank the conference off-track, make sure that the conference moderator shuts down the conversation before it becomes damaging to the task at hand.
Remember, the press is an invaluable resource for any candidate – but communication with it must be conducted with careful thought and strategy.