Press conferences aren’t as common as they used to be. Technology has enabled companies to disseminate information to reporters (and the public) without gathering the press in a single place—and that’s a good thing, since reporters have less time than ever to leave their desks to attend a press conference (and many won’t).
Press conferences can also be tricky, because reporters in packs sometimes play a game of one-upmanship, in which each reporter tries to ask a tougher question than the last. Still, press conferences can play an essential role in media communications.
Here are the six times you should call a press conference:
1. When there is high news interest
Many reporters are reluctant to attend press conferences, so your news story must rise to a certain level of newsworthiness before it makes sense to arrange one. If you’re an attorney in a high-profile case, for example, odds are good that the assembled reporters will appreciate your on-camera statement. Doing a press conference may also help prevent you from spending hours doing dozens of one-on-one interviews (which, in some cases, might be a better option).
2. When reporters are all in the same place
If reporters are already gathered in one place or locale, it might make sense to hold a press conference. As examples: a few dozen reporters are attending your scientific conference; you’re a New York financial firm making a major announcement to the financial press; or you’re a sports coach debriefing with the press following a game.
3. During political campaigns
National and many state political campaigns come with a trailing pack of reporters. For instance, if you’re running a competitive senate race in California odds are that your candidate will have several reporters nearby at any given time.
4. When public safety is involved
The media are rarely a greater ally than when you need to disseminate critical safety information to local communities quickly. As an example, imagine you’re the public safety officer for a municipality when a gas line erupts, jeopardizing local lives. It’s probably a good idea to hold a press conference (outside the “danger zone,” of course).
5. In a crisis
You won’t call a press conference in every crisis, but if it meets some of the criteria listed above, you might consider doing so. A press conference in a crisis not only satisfies many of the reporters’ questions, but also sends a strong message that you’re in control, willing to talk, and not in “duck and cover” mode. For some scandals, a press conference can help shrink the news cycle, as it did in this case.
6. When announcing a loss of life
In many cases, it’s a good idea to put a human face on tragic news. If you’ve lost a colleague in an explosion at your plant or you’re a public safety officer who knows how many students died in a bus crash, you might consider telling the press in person and on camera. Be careful to notify immediate family members before releasing names through the press.
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @MrMediaTraining.