When your company or organization has something newsworthy to announce, a news conference can give you the exposure you need with the ease of telling everyone at once. Such events draw reporters and photographers from newspapers, magazines, business journals, blogs, television and radio – giving you a chance to reach a wide audience.
A news event allows you to outline your message without interruption and emphasize important points before taking questions. As your publicist, we manage the crowd and gauge when to stop the Q&A, though you might conduct individual interviews after stepping down from the podium.
For journalists, a news conference reduces the chance of missing the story. And it means they can share in the questioning. But with “pack journalism” especially it’s important to stay on your toes. Reporters who cannot get an exclusive story will jockey for something “big” to break from an event meant to give you publicity.
Your event will be friendly and easygoing to start – you get to talk about something reporters want to hear and you might field some “softball” questions that you can hit on the mark. But reporters won’t just give you free advertising. Here are tips to handle awkward moments.
Expect edgy questions – at least one you don’t want to answer. It’s OK to say, “I can’t talk about that.” That’s a better response than “No comment,” which sounds like you have something to hide. It’s also OK to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll try to get you an answer.”
The ‘loaded question’
Good reporters pretend to know more than they really do when asking a question. The reporter may have some knowledge of a situation and will try to elicit confirmation indirectly by asking about details. If you get a trick question, smile and say, “I can’t talk about that, but nice try,” and call on someone else.
Two behaviors are treacherous when you talk with reporters: Lying and losing your temper. Deception robs you of credibility when it becomes evident you knew something that you denied knowing. If you have a short fuse, watch your tongue. Frustrated reporters might try to provoke you into reacting badly.
Stay on message
If the topic of your news conference wanders way off track, guide the conversation back to your message by repeating a talking point. Or, ask for another question. Be diplomatic but firm. If the reporters pile on, wrap up – that’s better than an ugly clash that ends up on the front page or TV news!
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