Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest in press conferences by public safety agencies to release information; without proper planning and execution, the press conference can open a "can of worms" you that don't want to deal with.
Two tools that I use from time to time to release information to the media are the "Press Conference" and the "Press Briefing." Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest in press conferences by public safety agencies to release information. But without proper planning and execution, the press conference can open a "can of worms" that you don't want to deal with. What are the differences between the two?
A press conference is usually held after an unexpected event has occurred, and for planned events, such as to promote events within your department. Here are the differences:
Unexpected Event - This is usually an emergency or disaster. It can also be any other event that has drawn media attention. Usually the media are the ones looking for a press conference so important information can be received and disseminated.
Planned Event - This could be something that is related to an unexpected event but you have requested the media to attend so you can release information.
Promotional Event - This is an event in which you invite the media to give information about a special event which is not associated with an emergency or disaster. An example would be recruit graduation, award ceremony, announcement of a new fire safety education campaign, or the opening of a new fire station.
Here are some vital questions to ask yourself before setting up a press conference:
- Is the press conference really necessary? Are other agencies involved, such as mutual aid departments? If so, what do they think?
- What do you hope to achieve if you have the press conference? Is it to release vital life saving information during an incident or to release information that explains a certain program or incident?
- What time should it be held and where? The place should be accessible to the media (and in some cases that could mean several hundred journalist and vehicles). What about the time? No matter what time you decide to have your press conference, after you have alerted the media of the time, stick to it. There is no excuse not to start on time. Give yourself adequate time and if that means several hours or days, use it. It is better to be right and correct than trying to back peddle and make corrections later.
- When selecting a place for the press conference, try to have it in a place where the speakers can come into and leave the room without having to go through the media. This way they are not bombarded with questions as they try to enter or leave.
- Decide how much time will be devoted to the press conference. If you are going to release information and there is no question and answer period, then when everyone is done speaking, it is over. But if you have a question and answer period, a time should be determined and when that time is reached, the PIO (with the understanding of the speakers prior to the press conference) should end the press conference by saying "last question."
- Make sure all of the media is notified; make an extra effort to ensure that all print, radio, TV and any other media is notified so that no one is left out.
- Make sure staff and agency officials are aware of the press conference. This way if someone asks when or where the press conference is being held, they can answer the question. Staff should be advised not to go into details about what will be released at the press conference.
- Put all of the information you are going to release during the press conference in a media release format and pass out to the media at the conclusion of the press conference. If you can post it to a website, do so, but after the press conference.
- It is better not to take questions from the media unless you are absolutely sure of your facts. Many times questions from the media go off track and take the emphasis from the main topic of the press conference.
- What to wear? Uniforms are best if you belong to a uniform agency, business attire is the alternative. If the press conference is being held at the scene of an incident, protective clothing may have to be worn.