Do you remember the classic movie line “If you build it, he will come” from the 1989 American fantasy-drama, Field of Dreams? Farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice and sees a baseball diamond where his cornfield stands. The “he” that is being referred to is none other than Pickens-born, Shoeless Joe Jackson. Hope you have had a chance to visit the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum located across the street from Fluor Field in Greenville’s Historic West End www.shoelessjoejackson.org.
So what does the Field of Dreams have to do with your non-profit holding a press conference? In fact nothing, but it is a way for me to make a point. You CANNOT expect the media to show up at a press conference just because you decided to have or “build” one. My observation is that many non-profit organizations attempt to generate public attention and interest about an upcoming event or the launch of new program or the receipt of an award by holding a media event. And sometimes it works…however on most occasions, non-profit staff members are biting their nails and praying while awaiting the arrival of the media.
A “no show” press conference is both disappointing and embarrassing. In addition to the media, the event invitees generally include the organization’s most committed stakeholders. This group is expecting headline news in tomorrow’s newspaper and a feature story on tonight’s 6:00 news. In planning the event you have set the expectation that the media will be in attendance and that the organization will receive favorable attention…leading to increased public awareness and successful fundraising efforts.
The purpose of this blog is not to suggest that a non-profit should never hold a press conference. I am, however, recommending that much consideration and planning go into an organization’s overall communications strategy. There are a wide variety of activities that should be included…. everything from social media and digital strategy to special events, grassroots efforts, and public and media relations. A press conference is a very unique opportunity and should not be squandered.
Before holding a press conference, you must first devote energy to establishing strong media relations. To do this effectively, you must get to know and understand the needs of your local media outlets and their representatives who are most interested in your mission. By doing this, your press releases are less likely to be lost and buried in a reporter’s inbox. Since these individuals are busier than ever with very short-deadlines, they are always looking for reliable and trustworthy contacts who can help make their jobs easier. Good relationships can lead to the media seeking you out for interviews, not only about your organization, but also about related topics.
Once you have established their trust, it is important to not abuse it by inviting them to an irrelevant press conference. You must consider the media’s needs when you decide to hold the event. Here are some reasons to hold one.
• To offer the media access to a prominent individual that they might not otherwise have access to.
• To make a significant announcement. (Consider community impact in assessing whether it is significant.)
• To respond to a crisis.
• To announce breaking news.
• To react to a related national issue or report.
In closing, please consider these reasons before inviting the media to a press conference. These busy individuals are much more likely to attend your event if they have a newsworthy reason to show up. In addition it will be much easier for them to pitch the idea to their editors and block out their precious time to help tell your story. And with a well-thought out strategy you may actually show up on the 6:00 news!