After the Event12 years, 10 months ago
In an extract from their recently published book, How to Manage a Successful Press Conference, Ralf Leinemann and Elena Baikaltseva share their expertise on what needs to be done when a major publicity event or media briefing is over.
The last journalist has left the conference building, you are exhausted, and you open a bottle of champagne with your colleagues to celebrate. The conference is over.
Is it really? In fact, it is not. Not only does your agency need to de-rig the stage and remove all equipment, but you also still have several tasks ahead of you. Not necessarily straight away, but certainly within the next days and weeks.
It is strongly recommended that you do an initial informal de-briefing right after the event – while the memories are still fresh. You should note down any kind of immediate feedback, either from your colleagues directly, or based on informal feedback they have picked up from participants at the event (journalists, guests and executives).
As long as you are still on site you should also run a formal de-briefing with the management of the hotel or the conference centre. Even though they have probably worked primarily with your events agency, you are ultimately responsible for the event, and you should ensure that there are no loose ends left behind.
Make sure, for example that the hotel is satisfied with the condition of the venue as you leave it behind. No further cleaning or making good should be needed that would catch you unawares and make an impact on costs. Even though costs may go via your events agency and they have even budgeted for everything, the event was ultimately done in the name of your own company. And it should be part of your corporate responsibility to ensure that no mixed feelings are left behind.
We remember a major press conference in Venice where hanging up several pictures on a wall caused the wall colour to suffer. The request from hotel management to repaint the wall was justified – especially since the hotel was a historic monument – and the cost was actually minor. You should not leave such negotiations to your agency, but show commitment yourself in representing your company.
Very high on your priority list of action items must be all follow-up activities with journalists. You have probably picked up action items from journalists who attended the event. But there is also an action item related to journalists who did not attend the event. Remember: When a follow-up is promised you must follow up! Not doing so can be considered a PR crime! With respect to action items that are not followed up, a journalist’s memory is similar to that of an elephant.
Typical actions are picked up during 1:1 interviews. Journalists may have requested detailed information that may have required some research and was not available right away. The PR managers who attended the interviews need to collect all these action items and process them immediately. You need to keep in mind that the journalists attended your event and dedicated time out of the office to collect information from you and your company. They are now writing their articles and probably depend on the additional information they requested from you during the interview. You had better provide that information as quickly as possible.
Remember that they are competing with many of the other journalists who also attended the press conference and they need to write their article straight away in order not to fall behind.
Another typical scenario is a request during an open Q&A session that either cannot be answered immediately away or that is only of interest to a single journalist, and a lengthy answer would bore the rest of the audience. A typical speaker’s reaction is the request to take this question offline. Again, this approach is not a carte blanche to forget about the question and the respective answer, but it is an action item for the speaker to follow up.
The follow-up can happen either right after the presentation or – if additional information is needed – in a phone call at a time that is appropriate for both parties.
Typical information requested for follow-ups includes picture material, market data or technology details. But you also need to follow up with journalists who did not attend the event, especially those journalists who initially wanted to come but cancelled later and must be very interested in your news (otherwise they probably would not even have cancelled, but would have simply stayed away). You should send them the material together with the offer to be available for additional questions if needed.
A little side note related to follow-ups with journalists: it is inappropriate in several countries to thank the journalists for their participation at your press conference. They would feel offended since they did not participate to do you or your company a favour, but because they did their job. They certainly do not want to leave the impression that they only attended because they owe you something. This would obviously be unethical.
After The Event Is Before The Event
You certainly want to measure the outcome of the event. You want to see what the journalists have been writing about your announcement. You also want to de-brief with the crew and understand what worked well and what can be improved at the next event.
In particular, the end of this PR project already gives some indication of what to do next and how to approach future PR activities, since PR work is a circle (planning – execution – evaluation – situation analysis – planning – and so on). The outcome of the current press conference should clearly affect the planning of future PR projects.
This example illustrates that postponing an answer cannot mean forgetting about it. If a spokesperson cannot answer a question, it is right to admit the fact, to refer it to another spokesperson or follow it up in person at a later time, once the information has been gathered.
We would like to discuss a few scenarios that you may encounter and that should drive your future PR activities:
• You have just completed a press conference educating the business press about your business strategy. The event was clearly set up as a pre-cursor to a new drive of your company with new products into new markets. An obvious next step would be to introduce those new products to the trade press.
• You realize from the feedback that your message did not go down well with your audience. Maybe they bluntly disagreed with your story. In that case you may need to rethink your product development, your marketing strategy, your go-to-market approach or your overall business strategy – depending on what your message and the reaction actually was. But the disagreement of your audience could have been caused by some other factors as well. Maybe you simply did not articulate your message well enough or maybe you did not tailor your message well enough for the audience you addressed at your press conference (maybe you delivered a technical message to the business press, or a business message to the lifestyle press). Either way, you need to think of implementing a plan to correct the impression you have left.
• You realize that the journalists agreed with your strategy, but they demand proof points in the future. In that case you may want to consider a follow-up in a reasonable timeframe, presenting customer case studies or references.
• You may receive positive feedback, but at the same time the journalists tell you that they hear not so positive comments from your channel partners. In that case your next campaign may address the channel press – or your company makes use of other elements in the communication mix to educate the channel.
All these examples indicate that you want to learn for the future from your recent press conference. A de-briefing should be done formally, documented properly and it should address several aspects.
The objective of a de-briefing is to identify next steps in your PR activities from a content point of view, but also to enhance logistical aspects of future activities. You should therefore separate two levels of a de-briefing. Nevertheless, it is strongly recommended that you do not separate them during the de-briefing itself, since this would slow down the feedback process for the participants.
In a de-briefing session you want to collect all feedback from your company’s participants at the event, but also from your supporting staff from external agencies. All the feedback is based on personal impressions and on informal discussions with the journalists during and after the event. This part of the de-briefing should be done rather like a brain-storming session where initially all feedback is put on the table in an unmediated way. Just collect feedback without arguing or commenting on it.
The formal feedback forms should be evaluated in parallel. It would be interesting to see if the ‘objective’ feedback is in line with the ‘subjective’ impression the staff have collected. Regardless of whether it is in line, be careful not to draw conclusions too quickly! Only make decisions for next steps after having consulted all sources. This includes:
• Journalists’ formal feedback, in feedback forms, for example.
• Subjective impressions based on individual experiences: from PR staff, from executives and spokespeople; based on informal discussions; based on discussions in 1:1 interviews.
• Media analysis
On the content and the message of your press event you want to collect feedback addressing the following items:
• Was the content understood by your audience?
• Were the journalists able to articulate your main messages?
• How did they rate the content?
• Did they compare your announcement with similar news they received from your competitors?
• Did they share your company’s direction and strategic vision?
• Was the content relevant to their readers, that is, will they cover it?
• Was, in the journalists’ opinion, anything missing in the announcement?
• Was, in their opinion, your content consistent in itself, with earlier messages and also with other information they learned from your company?
• Did they share feedback from third parties, for example from industry analysts?
• Do they think you will be successful?
But you also want to learn how you can improve the running of press conferences. Therefore, you should also pay attention to feedback related to the following:
• Were all logistics to their satisfaction?
• Did the event meet their expectations?
• Did they suggest improvements?
• Did they make a comparison with your competitors’ events?
• Did they get access to the information and the executives they expected?
But also, collect feedback from your executives and spokespeople! Especially, evaluate all notes taken at the interviews. The journalists, the questions and the way they asked them helps tremendously to understand where potential issues are and if the message was received positively or if scepticism was detected.
The consolidated feedback should give you indications in many areas. They include:
• General acceptance of your message. Is your message on target or do you need to refine it?
• Do you reach your audience?
• Are there influencers that you have not addressed yet or that are not convinced yet?
• Was a press conference the right approach in the first place to deliver your message?
• Will you need to do a follow-up with the journalists to close gaps that became obvious?
• Did you receive feedback about your products that you need to pass on to your company’s R&D (research and development) department, your marketing department or the sales organization?
• Did you learn about new industry trends or developments that your high-level management or your business development department needs to know about?
• Did you get positive responses that you want to share with your company’s employees? (Note that positive responses from the media have a strong impact on the employees’ attitude and morale.)
• Do you need to develop your executives and spokespeople to stay on message better?
• Do you need to improve the logistics of the event?
• Did your supporting agencies do a good job?
This list can obviously be continued. It is important to have proper documentation of all inputs. But the final de-briefing document should be the opposite of the initial brainstorming!
While you initially allowed all feedback, you now need to condense the feedback to items that are confirmed from various sources, that is, they must be relevant and not be based on individual incidents. Prioritize the feedback and try to identify the top three items.
Do not dilute the feedback, since you should focus on the top issues in your future activities. Do not waste your (limited) resources on solving issues that have no impact or address items that are only of secondary importance. Target your PR resources on those items that maximize the benefit for your company.
Measuring the results of the press conference should happen on several levels. The classic ‘Lindenmann model’ describes three levels in great detail; the output, outgrowth and the outcome levels. As described in Media Relations Measurement: Determining the Value of PR to Your Company’s Success (Ralf Leinemann and Elena Baikaltseva), you should pay attention to two more levels describing internal company topics and your relationship with the journalistic community.
We’ll briefly describe all five levels and provide examples of what to pay attention to specifically when measuring a press conference:
• Internal level. On the internal level we measure internal company goals. For example, we want to have all speakers at a press conference attend media training before presenting or going into an interview. Another example for an internal goal would be to have a certain number of interviews with a certain speaker to position that executive in the media, and potentially position him or her as a specialist for a well-defined topic. Other internal goals may include budget goals, technical excellence, internal communication, compliance with internal guidelines and policies, preparation, and so on.
• Output level. On the output level, basic aspects of PR are measured. At a press conference, this would include aspects such as the number of journalists attending, the number of interviews done with company executives, or the number of articles written by attending journalists after the event.
• Relationship level. On the relationship level, your relationship with the media community is measured. On this level you should try to answer questions like: Are you and is your company accepted by journalists? Do they trust you? Do they ask your opinion on developments in the industry? At press conferences, a first indication of their willingness to talk to your company is the journalists’ reaction to your invitation.
• Outgrowth level. On the outgrowth level the focus is on the content and on the question of whether the content is understood by your audience, that is, the journalists. You would no longer simply ask whether a journalist has written an article. Neither would it be sufficient to ask for the rating of the article, that is, if it was negative or favourable to your news. The question would rather be whether the article addresses the content, the message, and especially the focus you intended. You may ask questions like: Is the headline the intended one?
• Outcome level. On the outcome level, the changed behaviour of your target audience is evaluated. This could apply to the journalists and their attitude towards your company, or their readers and for example their buying behaviour. If you refer this to the journalists, you may want to compare their behaviour towards your company before and after a press conference. If you refer this to their readers (which is the actual understanding of this level per Lindenmann himself), that is, your potential customers, then you would examine their awareness of and preference for your company’s brand and/or products.
Ralph Leinemann is PR Director for Hewlett-Packard’s Imaging and Printing Group in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.mail the author
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Elena Baikaltseva has been Public Relations and Marketing Communications Manager for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in the Moscow office since 2001.mail the author
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