This is not a happy headline:
Ouch. It gets worse. Here’s the story that went with it. What went wrong?
For starters, press conferences are obsolete and have been for at least 20 years. Clients and CEOs love them and are always pressing to hold one, but smart media relations professionals generally pat them on the head and hold their hands until the urge passes with no damage done. (The best strategy for talking them out of it is to usually tell them it’s a waste of money, which is always true.)
The press conference was born at least a half century before the first personal computers appeared. Print reporters took notes in tall, skinny notebooks (to be honest, I still use these; old habits are hard to break) and either dictated a story over the phone or ran back to the newsroom to write up the news. Photographers (TV and still) got their shots and headed for the darkroom to develop the film. In that environment, it provided some efficiency.
Today? Not so much. Here’s why:
- It’s arrogant. When you hold a press conference, you’re saying, “We’re so important, we’re picking the time and place and expecting you to be there.” Nobody likes that attitude. Not reporters, not editors, not producers. Sure, you can get away with it if you’re Apple. But not if you’re Spotify, which had nothing much to say at any rate.
- Too much stuff can go wrong. Even in the old days, a press conference was risky. In the 1980s, when I was a public relations manager at BellSouth, we spent weeks preparing for a huge press conference, with the CEO and the governor both addressing media. Then, about a half hour before the press conference, there was a minor accident at the Savannah River nuclear facility, which processed nuclear materials for use in nuclear weapons. Every reporter in Georgia headed to Augusta to cover the possible disaster, and nobody had the slightest interest in our press conference. The public relations manager responsible for the event was left in Atlanta to tap dance for a less-than-impressed CEO and a bored governor.
- Reporters hate being herded around. Reporters — at least the good ones — want to get their own stories, their own way. They humor the politicians in Washington D.C., because they know everybody else will cover the story and it’s embarrassing if they miss it. But in the corporate world, they’d generally rather get a root canal than cover your event.
- Nobody has time anymore. In case you didn’t get the memo, the one-day news cycle died 20 years ago. Newspapers and television stations have fired their reporters in droves. The reporters who are left don’t have time to get in the car, work their way through traffic, and stand around waiting on your CEO to arrive. Their time is better spent back at the office, collecting quotes by phone and email.
Do yourself, your CEO and your client a big favor. Next time they say “let’s have a press conference,” just say no. “Hell no” is even better.