Photo courtesy of Gizmodo
With a seemingly worse reputation than its second cousin – the press release – the press conference has been brought out to the cow pastures in most industries. Political leaders, along with governments and corporations in Asia, making up the fairly small list of abstaining parties still practicing the art of the media scrum and photo op.
However, thanks in large part to Apple and Steve Jobs, a new ‘press conference on steroids’ has emerged over the last several years in the form of the live press event.
Capitalizing on the Internet Age, and the media’s desire and willingness to report stories minute-by-minute, the live event has become a powerful PR tool to disseminate major announcements to a broad list of media outlets. It allows for pre-event buzz, live event buzz and post-event feature stories, which maximizes the exposure for the brand and whatever they are announcing. It also allows corporations and PR folks to avoid going down the road of pre-briefings under embargo, which have become unbelievably challenging with bloggers and reporters looking to scoop each other by minutes, and even seconds.
Unfortunately for most corporations thinking about hosting a live event (to paraphrase the great Rick Pitino), “Steve Jobs isn’t walking through that door.” So how do you pull off a successful live event without an iconic CEO? Here’s a few basic tips.
1. It all starts with the invitation: The number one goal of most live press events is to get butts in the seats. In order to ensure this you need a good invitation. The trick is you need to spark interest in attending while maintaining a certain level of mystery to increase pre-event speculation.
- One way to spark interest, without giving the announcement away, is with the location. Most successful live events are hosted in a location that is a natural tie-in to the theme of the announcement. For instance, Apple’s Rock-N- Roll themed event last week utilized the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – which usually hosts dance groups and other entertainment acts. Try to plan for a location like this rather than using corporate headquarters. It will help with getting bloggers out of their current seats, and into yours.
- Apple has also capitalized on pictures being more powerful than words in their invites. A picture that symbolizes the theme with a few teasing words – keeps the pre-event buzz going, and serves as the art for pre-event blog posts. It also allows you to get reporters in the right frame of mind heading into the live event, to ensure that they aren’t let down by what actually transpires.
- Aim for getting the invites out 2 weeks in advance of the event and plan on following up repeatedly with media to get the event on their calendar.
- Keep reminding them even if you get an RSVP. Attendance at live events is usually (anecdotal evidence) 60 – 70 percent of those that said they will be there.
2. Room logistics: A great location is nothing without a good room. The old PR trick of lots of people in a small room still can work, but if you want to spawn live blogging you better make sure everyone can see the stage.
- Stadium-style seating is best. If that’s not possible, just make sure everyone has an equal view.
- Bloggers and reporters interested in live-blogging will want seats and space to type. Try not to overfill a room to the point where no one can report live because they can’t get their laptop up in front of them.
- Make sure you have the room set-up for the conclusion of the live event. A room close by for one-on-one interviews (great for the ever-popular Flip interviews), a demo area and some food should be in the planning.
3. The connection is key: While the status of the Internet connection may be an after thought for the typical press conference, it’s a top line item for the live event. In order to maximize the exposure of the event, you need to make sure that the connection will support minute-by-minute tweets and posts by attending press. Bring in IT people to make sure the connection is fast and reliable.
- Make sure you let media know that they will be able to live-blog, and there will be a reliable connection. Some folks have given up trying to cover events live do to unreliable connections provided by companies.
- Make it simple for media to log in. We’ve handed out cards with press materials at events, which detail network names and passwords for easy log-in.
4. It’s all in the delivery: Steve Jobs and Apple are successful with live events because they keep the media hanging on every word. While your news may not rival Apple’s (in terms of media interest), you have something important to share (that’s why you’re considering a live event). Make sure that news is shared at the end of the event, so the media hang on every word throughout.
- The live event should be planned out minute-by-minute. You want to make sure that you give media attendees the news in advance of it crossing wires, but you don’t want to take the air out of your spokesperson’s delivery. Plan to email the details on the big news (along with the secondary news and pictures) to attending media when the spokesperson finally delivers it.
- It’s a good idea to give those folks attending a head start on reporting that news before the release crosses the wire. 15-20 minutes after the email has gone to attendees seems to be a good time to officially put the news over the wire.
5. Become one of the live-bloggers: Given that every company is a media company, the live event is the ideal venue to leverage all of the media channels you have available to you. Even if you can’t attract 100 media outlets like Apple, you can get your story out to everyone through your own channels.
- Make sure the folks managing your corporate Twitter handle(s) put out the hashtag (#) to follow the live event a day in advance of the conference.
- Those folks should also have a copy of the spokesperson’s remarks on hand the day of the event, so they can relay the important parts of the delivery to their Twitter audience as they occur.
- Assuming you have a corporate blog to leverage, you should also leverage it to live-blog. In addition, have a full blog post written in advance – that you can put up when the release crosses the wire. House photos and other media there, to increase traffic to the blog and the corporate Website.
- If it makes sense, and you calculate that it won’t take butts out of seats, look into the possibility of live streaming the live event. Ustream provides a quality service. You could even host the live stream on your corporate Facebook fan page.