Tips For Planning A Media Event – Part Two, Getting It Done

Planning A Media Event Part OneWhile it is important to prepare and practice as much as possible before meeting with the press, it is equally important to remember that even the best media spokespeople can have off days. If something goes wrong, don’t get bogged down by it, but keep going, chances are the gaffe isn’t as big a deal as you think it is. Even if it is, is that really the last impression you want to leave? If you do get stuck, keep in mind our former Prime Minister, Lester Pearson

Mr. Pearson is very well regarded. We’ve named airports, schools and streets after this amazing Canadian. He was a Nobel Prize winner, a man often perceived as being too smart for politics, and he was also a relentless disaster in the media.  It seemed as if, if something could go wrong, it did.  In one instance in an attempt to offset previous missteps, great efforts were made to ensure that Mr. Pearson would appear before the press in an authoritative and commanding fashion.  The timing of his press conference was fussed over for weeks in advance, the placement of the microphone was carefully considered and his entrance was contemplated at length. He would enter the room on cue and stride across the front of the room with authority. His handlers had even added three cushions to his seat to ensure that he had presence at the media table. What they didn’t anticipate was that Mr. Pearson would not only enter at the wrong time, but through the wrong door.  The result was that he interrupted his own assistant’s presentation, was spotted by the press and was then left trying to shuffle his way through the centre of the room in a space about one foot wide. Picture it, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, excuse me, pardon me, need to get by, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, hardly an authoritative entrance.

Diplomat and politician Lester Pearson won the...

Diplomat and politician Lester Pearson won the title more than any other person except Pierre Trudeau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite these less than sterling encounters with the press, he still remains one of our best regarded Prime Ministers. When his name is raised, it is rarely to recall his less than commanding encounters with the press.

During – (Day of the Event)

·         Be sure to have numbers of the media outlets that have agreed to attend and call to reconfirm interviews.

·         Designate a member of your staff or group to keep track of media attendance and greet the media.

·         Make sure that media participants have the information they need and that they know who to contact should they have follow up questions.

·         Keep extra copies of the backgrounder material on hand.

Managing Interview Questions

·         Nothing is “off the record” if you say it, then expect it to be made public.

·         Repeat important points, especially for sensitive or controversial issues.

·         When dealing with a question you’d rather not handle at the moment, you should always address the question, but you don’t have to answer it. If you do answer, keep it short. In either case, move on quickly.

·         Beware of hypothetical questions. They make dramatic headlines, but don’t relay the facts.

·         Don’t bluff. If you don’t know, say so.

·         You don’t have to answer a question the moment it is asked. Pause to collect your thoughts. A moment is a lot shorter than you think. It will look like you are giving the answer some thought (which is what you should be doing).

Try these delaying phrases if you need more time,

·         “Well, I’m not surprised you asked that question….”

·         “I’m pleased you asked that question, let me take a minute to explain….”

·         “This is a challenge we’re looking at and expect to soon have….”

Bridging phrases to get back to your message.

·         “But perhaps an equally important issue here is….”

·         “What I think you’re getting at is….”

·         “That’s not in my field, but what I can say is….”

·         “I don’t know…but I do believe….”

·         “That’s because….”

·         “As you know….”

Tips for avoiding difficult questions:

·         “That’s in the future. What I want to talk about now is….”

·         “What I think you want to know is….”

·         “Those were important factors, but….”

·         “Too soon to tell….”


Send photos with a detailed caption along with your press release to all print publications (this includes online) that didn’t make it to your event.  Plenty of local coverage is garnered in this fashion. Try to keep a copy of your clippings or any comments you receive.  They may come in handy for future documentation or correspondence.

Note lessons learned. Were spokespeople well prepared? Did you have sufficient information?  Did you have too much information? Did the press follow an unanticipated angle?  How did your spokespeople handle themselves?  Did any nervous tics make themselves evident during interviews? Add the information to your media kit for future reference.

Have you ever attended or watched a press conference go wrong?  Watched one that went like a charm? What made them work or fail?


0 responses to “Tips For Planning A Media Event – Part Two, Getting It Done

  • It always bothers me when something that is meant only for a few ears, a journalist will use it against the speaker. With many of the relationships I develop I have been privelaged to the behind the scenes. I take pride in the fact that I discern the difference between what should be shared and idle gossip that could hurt reputations.

    We all have our own biases but that doesn’t mean they need to be broadcast out to the world.

    • Jon we all have our own codes of conduct and I generally try to have some patience for those that differ with mine, but I do think there is a line to be drawn between being told something in confidence and stating something for the public record. I’m not clear how a journalist who makes a practice of betraying confidences would maintain friendships. If nothing else, those friendships would be pretty artificial.

      As to biases, TOTALLY agree, broadcasting them is a bit like looking for a fight. 🙂

  • It really surprises me how much of this advice applies to what I’ve learned from when I was in the classroom. I think I discredit myself when I get nervous about how well I can handle the so-called real world, when I have experience I can draw on for situations such as what you describe above. The most disarming thing to say to a group is “I don’t know.” It takes a special type of person to be able to say that.

    • I taught at college level for one semester…it was exhausting. It was like putting on a complex presentation complete with slides every week.Teachers are pretty amazing people. You have to take data, turn it into information, but also make it entertaining and you have to do it in diverse enough ways to allow for multiple audience members to follow and understand. No kidding you know your PR stuff. 🙂

  • Debra this is a wonderful compliment to for previous post. It is often hard to remember that other people have off days also. Having some tools in your mental tool box to be able to pull out when you are having one of those moments is vital. The big thing is not to cave when you are not perfect. 🙂

    • You’ve nailed it Susan. It’s not about being perfect, its about making the effort. Although we can sometimes paint reporters as pretty predatory people, they can also be patient, caring and above all, they are human and understand that sometimes people get nervous. While they may be unforgiving with a well known figure head, they will often be waaaay more patient and generous with others.

  • winnercat says:
    August 7, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    Great how to handle the press guide for a company, Debra! In particular for large or medium sized companies.

    If someone asks me something I’m not 100 % sure of I simply say that I don’t know but will find out and get back to them tomorrow at a specific time. It’s impossible to know everything and I have always got away with doing so.

    • Catarina being honest when you don’t know the answer and committing to getting back to the reporter is a great way to not only avoid pitfalls, but also to cement a long-term relationship with the reporter. It demonstrates that you won’t lead them astray and that you are willing to do the work to get them the answers they need.

      • However, this technique is a disaster when you have to use it for something you SHOULD know the answer to. Two instances of this leap to mind from the 2008 presidential campaign in the U.S. Sarah Palin was intereviewed by Katie Couric, and was asked what periodicals she read for information about current events. She could not name any of them and said she would have to get back to her. Ouch. And, when John McCain was asked how many houses he owned, he said he didn’t know and would have to get back to the interviewer — making him seem out of touch with John Q. Citizen, struggling to pay the mortgage on his one house.
        (I came over to this interesting conversation via BHB).

        • True, very true! Great examples Suzanne and you’re absolutely right. If you are supposed to be a subject expert and I dare say knowing how many houses you own and what you read would fall into that category, then going blank is failure. 🙂

  • Very good tips or speaking to a group. I love this one Nothing is “off the record” if you say it, then expect it to be made public. How people can think it is off the record when you make the comment so the whole world can hear it. I am sure many of our politicians would like to take back their comments off the record. Interesting concept of delaying and bridging which can be in everyday life

    • You know the horror stories I’ve heard about “off the record” not actually being “off the record” are incredible. I know of politicians who have had long term friendships impacted because they assumed that the reporter (a personal friend) would respect that what they were being told was in confidence during a private dinner.

  • Hi Debra, Great post. This scenario reminds me of a time, when I was asked to bring one of our State Senators in California, to a press conference. We thought he was prepared. Not! Wish I had known then, what I have learned from you. He kept bluffing, did not use any delaying, nor bridging phrases, and instead of using tips in order to avoid difficult questions, continued ahead, and was the laughing stock of the media. What a horrific press conference. Being a politician of his stature, one would think that he would be prepared. Goes to show you how wrong one can be.
    I would also guess, that arrogance plays a huge part. They should emulate Mr. Pearson. Blessings.

    • That sounds like an awful scenario, I hope the lack of media experience didn’t detract from the issue the politician had been brought it to discuss. If there is one rule that I always keep in mind when dealing with politicians, it’s assume nothing. They are as varied in their abilities as any member of the public. Here in Canada we do offer our politicians the opportunity to get media training, but they have to recognize that they need it and they have to practice. Even for those who take the media training, sometimes it takes a long time before they get comfortable. The recent premier of of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, was incredibly stilted when he first emerged chasing the leadership of the Liberal party. He was awkward in interviews and stiff delivering speeches. It was quite a while before he sounded conversational in either, but he got there.

  • Some of the valuable tips you have here Debra, are useful for anyone who speaks in public even if it’s not a press event. In particular your suggestions for bridging and delaying phrases. I’m a paid public speaker and I use some like what you have listed regularly. For me, it’s more of those few more seconds they give you, to be able to think about what to say in reply. Because as you asked, have you watched an event (I was thinking listening to other public speakers) where things went wrong? You bet!

    over here from LI group BHB

    • I couldn’t agree more Patricia. It’s amazing how much clarity and composure you can bring to your presentation or answers by simply giving yourself a few extra seconds to think.

  • Excellent post, as usual, Debra. I love that Lester Pearson’s goodness shone through and lived on despite his lack of smoothness in handling the media. As I read all your good tips, I kept thinking: These are useful for all of us in speaking temperately in fraught situations, and not saying things that would inflame others or that we’dl later regret. Thank you, Debra. You’re a real pro.

    • You know Alison, most people have no idea what he was like with the media, which is as it should be. I tell the story, simply because it illustrates so well how unimportant media astuteness is in the big scheme of things. I do wonder if we would have ever had the chance to benefit from his leadership if he was around today. Although I love communications, I think we can put far too much weight on how politicians perform in the camera lights.

  • Speaking to the media can be intimidating or nerve wracking. It is important to remember when you are being interviewed however that there is always a possibility that you are not the only nervous person in the situation. If the media personal is new or you present yourself as an authoritative person, you may be able to take control of the situation.

    • Great point Mary. My previous CEO was an authority on nursing issues and she has a very powerful presence, so you can believe she often knew more on the subject than the reporter and could frequently steer the direction of the conversation.

  • A great second part of the post, Debra! I remember in the university they spent quite a lot of time teaching us how to anticipate questions, how to address them so that we don’t tank, how to spot bait questions, and so on. (If you’re wondering, Public Relations is one of my specialties, we had plenty of journalism training – ins and outs from both journalist and business point of view).

    I am not in the questions and media relations business now but still – the section with delaying and bridging phrases is wonderful and will come in handy for sure! Sharing the post on social media as well – more people need to know this cool stuff! Thanks for writing and sharing it, Debra – your insights are appreciated 😀

    • Thanks Diana. The bridging and delaying sections are useful in many scenarios, from interviews to meetings, any time when you need time to think for a few seconds. It’s amazing but a few seconds can make all the difference in the world, of course just remaining quiet is ok too but most people find that freaky. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing the post.

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