News Conference: Tips and Tools
This page describes how community members can plan and hold news conferences in their area. We invite you to use our guidelines and documents in your planning.
Try thinking like a television journalist as you plan your news conference. Make sure you have an interesting visual, good sound, and a compelling story. Consider these factors with each of the following elements and how each component enhances your main message. Radio, newspaper and magazine reporters will also appreciate your attention to these details. When you make their work easier and more interesting, your reward is valuable news coverage!
The chronology and tools are presented in three pages. The first page has three sections:
- Decide the Goal
- Choose a Date and Time
- Secure a Location
- Informing your audience
- Basic Schedule
- Other Ways to get Media Coverage
First decide what the purpose of your news conference will be. Here are some possible ideas:
- To announce an event you want others in the community to join,
- To award a local civil liberties hero,
- To announce the start of a community-wide campaign, such as Patriot Days of Action or a community ordinance, or
- To inform the community of the arrival of a celebrity or noted official who's coming out to join or endorse your campaign.
Try to think like the media. What's the hook? What's the local angle? Can you link your story to something that's already gained attention in the news?
Invite a locally well known "name" to be the key speaker. A good way to make sure the media turns out for your news conference is to make sure the media recognizes the name of at least one of your presenters. Asking the mayor or a sympathetic public official to make a statement on behalf of your group can give your news conference a boost it might otherwise lack.
The date and time of your news conference are extremely important. It is your job to pick a date and time that will allow the media time to cover your event and your supporters time to attend.
Is there a significant date in your community?
- Anniversary of your resolution?
- A locally designated "Freddom Day," "Bill of Rights Day," or "Civil Liberties Day"?
- Some other local anniversary that coincides with Civil Liberties?
What is the best timing for a news conference?
- 10 a.m. - noon; Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday
- Schedule to fit news deadlines. You want to schedule the news conference so that a reporter or videographer has time to attend and time to edit their coverage before their deadline (i.e. 2 p.m. is the latest you hold your conference for a broadcast at 5 p.m., or 10 a.m. is the latest for a noon broadcast). See also combinations.
- Scheduling a morning news conference enables you to possibly get coverage on noon and afternoon radio or television news.
- Consider holding a news conference a day or two before your main event, so you can alert people about an upcoming picnic, parade, or commemoration.
News conferences can be held in a multitude of places. Try asking an ally group to use their office or meeting place, looking for a free or low-cost meeting room through the city, county, library, religious center, community college or university, or using an oustide public space (city hall, county building, federal building) with relevance to the Bill of Rights.
When looking for a location keep in mind the audience that you are expecting as well as how the location can be beneficial to your conference, and even how the location could be harmful.
- Consider the site's visual and sound attributes. Do not hold a news conference in a noisy place, such as with a fountain, traffic, or a playground in the background, unless that noise emphasizes the points you will make at your news conference.
- Find a way to provide a visual background to enhace your message. For instance, use a BORDC banner if you have one, make a banner from a sheet, or create your own Bill of Rights posters or signs. Ask people from your group to hold the signs behind the presenters at the news conference. Make use of the U.S. flag and other symbols of Independence Day.
- Provide directions for the media, especially if it's not a typical news conference location. The location should be easily accesible with convenient parking.
- If the location is not obvious, such as a hotel conference room or an office building, be sure to display signs directing people to the designated area.
Some locations will not be as adaptable to a news conference as others. Make sure to arrange for the following as needed: a microphone, a podium, access to electricity, news conference table and chairs for presenters and for the media.
Always get permission to hold the news conference in your choosen location and arrange a fallback plan, in case of inclement weather (if the news conference is held outdoors).
Invite friends and family who may or may not be involved in your organization. Encourage them to bring others to your conference. If possible have an announcement made at other community organization meetings.
A week before your event you should send out a media advisory that tantalizes the media with just a few key pieces of the story. Then two or three days ahead, and again the day before the news conference send out a news release.
- Follow up each with a phone call. Ask if the assignment editor received the release, then ask if you can provide additional information. You may also ask if they will send a reporter to the news conference. Don't feel offended if you can't get a commitment, but ask anyway.
- Call the morning of your news conference to check again (priorities can change fast in the news biz).
- E-mail and fax news releases. Do not count on one or the other - use both.
You can also send out the news release to all media who didn't attend the news conference, in case this prompts them to run the story.
A combination of events, such as a rally or another highly visual event with your news conference, may attract a live news team to broadcast from your news conference. But do not count on this unless you've done a lot of work to draw a large enough crowd to compel news coverage.
If you can, have a practice news conference ahead of time. This will give you the ability to assess where the strengths and weaknesses are in the presentation. Do not be afraid to switch things around to make it more interesting.
Do a check of your room's setup.
- Backdrop (a banner, signs, or another visually stimulating feature)
- Long table with chairs for presenters
- Rows of chairs for media and supporters (all should be facing the presenters)
- Space behind rows for news cameras
- Table with refreshments (optional) in far corner of the room.
Make packets of material for the media. These can be as simple as a copy of your main statement and news release or a few stapled pages including bios of speakers, news release and statements, or as complex as a folder with brochures, bios, statements, news release, business cards, and a copy of the Bill of Rights. Include a phone number and email address where reporters can contact you later with follow up questions. The URL of your website should be included on all materials you hand out.
The basic schedule should be predetermined. Do not wait until the day of the news conference. This will include the order of speakers, the designation of a moderator and the key points that you will be addressing. When guests and presenters start to arrive there should be a greeter at the door that signs in the media and distributes packets to each reporter.
- Start on time - no more than 5 minutes late. It is unprofessional to keep the media waiting. Do not give individual interviews until after the news conference.
- The moderator should make opening remarks, and then briefly introduce each speaker. Each speaker should talk no more than 5 minutes.
- Stay on the message. If you have three or four main points, you can keep repeating those points in various ways throughout the entire news conference. Do not allow yourself to be drawn away from your key points.
- Radio and television probably will not quote you for more than 10-15 seconds - so practice 10-15 memorable seconds, or a "quotable quote" for each speaker.
- Speak clearly. Don't read. Don't sound as if you've rehearsed. Each speaker should be able to speak with only a few references to notes. Best if you know your material and can speak passionately.
- Don't look into the cameras. Look directly at the audience.
- Question and Answer session should not last longer than 15-20 minutes. Reporters will draw individuals off to the side for further questions if need be.
- Avoid hecklers by only taking questions from official members of the media.
After the news conference, fax news releases to the media that didn't attend. Follow up with them to see if they'd like an interview.
Watch and record television and radio coverage. Clip newspaper coverage.
Meet with your group to conduct a "post-mortem," to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the event. Make it a point to offer two positive remarks for each critical remark, this way the group is able to process in a way that builds on its strengths.
There are multiple ways to grab the media's attention.
- Write an opinion editorial. Ask the newspaper editor to run your op-ed, or co-author an op-ed with one or more local allies who have clout with the editor.
- Ask the editor of your local weekly newspaper to reserve space for your story.
- Cultivate good relationships with local reporters, and interest them in doing a feature story on your group's campaign.
- Does your newspaper run announcements of upcoming events? Weekly calendar? Find out how far in advance they need the information.
- Radio & Television PSAs - no more than 30 seconds (or use local standard).
- Letter to the editor campaigns.
- Hold rallies, or portable demonstrations (3-8 people at key street corners throughout town with a unified message).
- Radio call-in program - even if your subject isn't on the air, if several supporters call in around the same time, you can influence a call-in program.
- Use your local cable access channel to broadcast programs.