The Myth of the News Conference

I was helping a multi-national company and the task at was the staging of a news conference to announce the launching of a life-saving product.  My client had hired a PR/event company to handle this.  I poked my head into the room to see the arrangements.  There were about a dozen chairs around a U shaped set of tables.  Name cards for journalists told me who might be arriving.  Toronto’s about the most media saturated city in the world with four daily newspapers, a few free newspapers, lots of radio, lots of TV, including educational TV networks in English and French.  

So no one could know all the players.  But what I did notice was that I didn’t recognize a single name on the cards around the table.  Some appeared to be attached to well-known media outlets—City TV for example.  When I asked about a few of the names, I was told they were freelance, commentators, or had recently worked for that outlet.  I had my doubts.  

It seems to me that companies that arrange news conferences for clients have a stable of 3rd string media people who can be invited if need be.  This will not guarantee coverage, and, in fact, no coverage may be the more likely result.  But there’s a relatively full room, with people who look like working journalists and everyone goes away happy.  

This probably costs about $1000 per person to stage.  

The better way is a media tour of town.  During rush hour, the Toronto Star newspaper near the waterfront is about an hour from Global TV in Don Mills.  That’s an hour from CTV along the 401 highway in Agincourt.  Back downtown the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, is just a half hour from the Toronto Star and another 20 minutes to the Globe and Mail newspaper.  On this goes.  

The thought that assignment editors are going to authorize a minimum of a 3 hour round trip (including the actual press conference, in old media slang one might say a newser) is unrealistic.  With a camera crew for TV, that’s a significant cost with no guarantee of actual news.

But, most stations have morning and noon talk shows.  They have reporters and writers on site who can pop away from their computers for a moment to conduct a brief interview.  All-talk radio stations present a similar opportunity.  Newspapers have editorial boards and if you’re not that newsworthy, a board member, or columnist or reporter might be interested.             

The media tour of town is a way to meet with reporters at a cost of $100 per person, if you play it right.  I know.  I’ve sometimes done so many media interviews that I’ve left one network’s makeup on my face, got in a cab and driven to another network and gone right on.  At CP24, the all-news station, I’ve sometimes been interviewed on the CTV all-news cable network and BNN, another all-news business network, several times on one visit. They all share the same floor of a building and their cameras are about 50 paces apart.

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