as it looks, so goes the saying. And that is very true. I recently experienced this axiom in real life as I prepared for a rather sizable news conference last week.
On the surface, this sounds pretty easy. You get a desk, a few chairs, maybe a podium, sit somebody in said chair/in front of podium, they talk, media listens, asks questions, the end.
Well, that’s like saying, building the Roman Empire was pretty easy. You get some Romans, hand out some togas, build a few coliseums, destroy Carthage, and wait for the Visigoths to mess it all up.
Putting on a news conference, particularly in today’s “everybody’s a video journalist who has a smartphone” world, has more layers than a Smith Island cake.
The part the general public sees, the actual conference, is really the easy part. And that’s saying something, as it isn’t too easy.
The chairs. Do they have wheels? Are they easy to stack? Are they padded? Are they your typical school-auditorium-gray-metal folding variety…and is that the look you want if your news conference is to announce something big, wonderful, happy, like opening of a new hospital? What about the podium? First, do you even WANT a podium? Will the speakers prefer to sit at a table with microphones in front of them as we often see with sports news conferences, or do they want the “prestige” factor of the podium, and if the latter, what type of podium? Clear, Lucite? Old school heavy-wood-type? Who’s logo goes on the podium? If there are more entities involved than just that of the company or organization hosting the news conference, who gets picked?
For those attending the news conference—and that’s not just media, it may be employees, local notables, friends of the organization(s), etc—how many chairs do you want, and in what configuration? Straight across, angled, aisle down the middle? Where are you going to hold the news conference? How much space is there available? Is there easy to access power outlets? How many ways are there to access the space, i.e. is there a “back way” in for the convenience of your speakers (say if you need to hustle your prez/CEO out in a hurry and don’t want to face a phalanx of angry-mob-with-pitchforks scenario). Is there a green room, a waiting area for the VIPs who show up early, how do they get to it, will it be marked, will there be “arrow” signs to point people where they need to go, do you have enough staffers to station them at different entry points so visitors can be directed accordingly?
Will there be food and refreshments? (Do you need to call a caterer or can you swing past the Dunkin Donuts on your way in and pick up a Danish-and-bagel tray?) At least water and if so, do go with water pitcher and glasses or plastic bottles or both?
What about parking? Dignitaries may not be expecting to park in a garage, but will want to “pull up front” so how does that impact normal flow of visitors? Making your way down the food chain, those who do park in the lot, will there be spaces cordoned off for them to use? Will you valet? Will you provide free comp parking? And if you’ve got broadcast/TV media coming, they’ll want easy access, so where can they park and not be hassled?
Will there be something for people to see, i.e. is someone making a powerpoint presentation or other similar requires-a-computer visual…and do you have a computer set up? (In my case, there were six large posters that had to be put on display...and that means securing easels...which we did...though one of them broke...so had to be fixed...and when the posters arrived, one of them had a misspelling...which was discovered 10 minutes before the press conference...so we had to fix it...which we did).
Have you contacted the appropriate IT people to make sure the sound, lighting, computer(s), drop screen, etc., are all working correctly? A lot will depend on your location. If you are using a conference room, it may be equipped with all of these things. Or it may not. Or you may be in a remote location that will require all this equipment to be brought in…and you best have time to do a staged run through to make sure all the equipment is working correctly, have you scheduled that?
Oh, and is there a BUDGET for all of this?
And there’s more…and this is just the “easy” part, the logistics…I mean, CHAIRS and WATER BOTTLES for gosh sakes.
But, of course, there’s also…POLITICS, generally the hard part or at least, the most incredibly ANNOYING part. Who is sitting where? Which dignitaries are speaking and in what order and for how long? Senator SuchandSuch is bringing along a special advisor and wants to be sure that person is seated directly next to him...though the Senator's PR person said they wanted your president and CEO seated next to him. So who sits where? V.P. such and such just had knee surgery so needs a seat near the front, Director So and So has another meeting so his people would prefer he speak FIRST, Mr. Executive doesn’t have time to do one-on-ones after the news conference, but then again, maybe he might. The CEO needs you to write his/her “welcome” remarks, but you were just told that the Board Chair was doing the welcome—so who is it and who is going to tell whom and who is going to be more pissed off?
Did you remember to include all the key players in your emails as you inform involved staff what’s happening with the news conference? Did you forget so and so who is now “apoplectic”? Did you copy someone who SHOULDN’T have been involved? Who should be, who shouldn’t be?
So-and-so is bringing their own photographer/videographer. Does that mean we don’t need one, or should I have someone onstaff handle that or do I need to hire someone and how are these images going to be used? Posted on your YOUTUBE channel, on your FACEBOOK page, on your website and do the keynote dignitaries’ staffers need to see images, approve them AND approve how you intend to use them?
And pal o’mine, I’m just getting warmed up.
Oh, and you can bet your 401K that NOBODY other than your Mom and Dad is going to care about the stress any of this is causing YOU. This is because in public relations, you are in the SERVICE industry. You live to serve...the client.
So, on behalf of all the beleaguered PR people who put on these events, sometimes with only 24-48 hours notice, let me say that I DO care, and that I really do FEEL YOUR PAIN. Trust me.
PR lesson here? Keep in mind that God AND the Devil are in the DETAILS. Details, details, details, check and recheck and have somebody else look at the news release again before it goes out, just ONE. MORE. TIME. so you can avoid having to explain to your boss why the company president was quoted from the release as “always keeping the needs of the PUBIC in mind.” For want of a “L” a job was lost…
Remembering that the CEO likes Pepsi more than Coke can help diffuse a tense situation when the big guy is claiming dry throat before coming to the podium. And forgetting that your podium is actually on WHEELS THAT WEREN’T LOCKED DOWN can result in Governor’s-pratfall-viral-video that gets a million hits, a fact that will provide little comfort when you’re in the unemployment line. And so it goes…