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How to Hold a Virtual Press Conference


With the COVID-19 pandemic still going strong, using technology for public relations will become more and more common. Fortunately, the technology to run a virtual press conference is the same technology you used to hold your department staff meeting

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There are several main components to a virtual press conference:

  1. The news—what are you announcing
  2. Setting up your virtual press conference
  3. The message—how are you communicating the news

1. The News

Before you recommend holding a virtual press conference, make sure you have news to announce that local media will want to cover. If you believe the news is strong enough to merit a real news conference and you want to hold it outdoors with social distancing and a few participants, do it.  However, if you are dealing with members in different geographic areas and time zones or you do not have access to an outdoor venue that would allow you to communicate your message in a safe environment, then a virtual press conference is a good alternative during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why? Increasingly, newsrooms have smaller and smaller staffs and are less able to devote resources to every development or story. If you can deliver and package a virtual press conference in 30 minutes that allows reporters to cover your event without leaving their home or office, do it.  Your end goal is generating media coverage of your event, not generating points for having a beautiful press event in an office or hotel room.

If you feel like your news is significant but does not rise to the level of an event, use a news release instead and save yourself and your organization the time and expense of holding a press event.

However, if you feel the news you are announcing is significant and can benefit from the story-telling approach that a press event provides, proceed to the next step. In some instances, holding a press event can signal to the media that your organization has a legitimate, serious message to convey.

2. Setting Up Your Virtual Press Conference

Choosing who will deliver your news is often made for you. If the CEO or Executive Director wants to be the spokesperson, the decision is made for you. But, are there roles for other staff? Do you have a patient or advocate who can play a role? It’s best to limit the number of spokespeople to a manageable number—remember that reporters who do attend your event may have time for only one or two interviews with key staff or spokespeople.

In a virtual setting, make sure you create branded backdrops that identify each spokesperson. Advise each person to clearly and fully complete the Zoom naming that also appears on your screen.

Press Materials
Writing media alerts serve as an excellent way to invite the media. The main points of interest should be upfront, the background and boilerplate information will be at the bottom. Media alerts should have a date and contact information. With a virtual event, be sure to include the link to the meeting with a password if applicable. We recommend you issue the media alert at least two days in advance of the event and again the morning of the event. Prepare a news release summarizing the event and your message and issue it after the press event.

3. The Message

Just as important as the news, the message consists of a boiled-down version of your main news. What is the main point you want to make and what does this announcement say about your organization’s values? Your messages should be used in all communications and marketing materials that are part of the event.

When crafting key messages, keep in mind they should be:

  • Focused on the audiences’ interests and pain points, not just your organization’s goals
  • Easy to understand, as brief as possible, and free of buzzwords
  • 100% correct and verifiable
  • Usable in all of the tactics you’re planning for your client’s program/campaign
  • Written with enough differentiation that they wouldn’t apply to other organizations in your space

Whether you use a full message map format or something simpler in its presentation, the time-tested best practice for modern key messages involves the development of 1) a central message; 2) supporting messages; and 3) the proof points that offer backup and/or more detail. The format can be as simple as a multi-level bulleted list.

The Venue

Platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and GoToMeeting are excellent choices for hosting your virtual press conference but it pays to learn how to employ key functions during the event.

Carefully track who you admit to the event.  If you are unsure of their identity, message them for clarity.   While security features on these tools are good, they are not perfect and non-invitees can sneak in.  Make good use of the mute function and encourage all reporters to submit questions during the press briefing using the chat function. At the end of the briefing, the virtual press conference host can direct those questions to the appropriate spokesperson or content expert.

Other issues to consider

Make sure you fully leverage your social media channels to extend the broadcast power of your message. Consider using Facebook Live to broadcast your event to your Facebook audience—the engagement you’ll receive will be strong and you’ll have a video copy of the event available should you need to use it for another purpose down the road.

After the event, re-merchandise the press coverage you earn on your social media channels and internal emails or intranet.

Multimedia and supporting documents—have your fact sheets, logos, b-roll video footage and other images prepared in advance for distribution at the press event. Put them all on a thumb drive with your organization’s logo for easy storage and access.

Prepare a news release summarizing your story that you can distribute to the media covering the event. If you have the ability, create a separate video file from your video conference and embed it in the news release you distribute after the event. It will help reporters have a record of the press conference and allow reporters who could not attend to use the video to help create their own story.

Virtual Press Conference Checklist

Here’s a handy checklist to help you stay organized and on track:

  1. What is your news?
  2. Do you have a spokesperson or spokespersons?
  3. Where will you hold the event? Which video platform will you use?
  4. What is your message?
  5. What other supporting items will help the reporter cover your story?
  6. What is your follow-up?
  7. Can you create a video of the virtual event that you can share afterward with the press?
  8. How will you track and report on your coverage?

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