The history of Press Conferences does not sound a particularly interesting story. There has been a resurgence in their use for the daily Number 10 briefings on Coronavirus. Downing Street had been gearing up for the new White House-style press conferences which were to be led by Allegra Stratton. Despite £2.6 million spent on a new media room, Boris Johnson has made the decision to ‘scrap’ plans for the televised briefings amid concerns about the ‘political risk’ involved.
Unlike the USA, there has never really been a tradition of Government Press Conferences given by a political aide (or Press Secretary), rather than a Government Minister. This is for the obvious reason that journalists want to hear it from the “decision maker”, rather than a media “spokesperson”.
The daily Pandemic Press Briefings are given jointly by a Government Minister and a scientist. The classic combination of evidence based authority and politics.
Are Press Conferences making a comeback in the UK?
So, are Press Conferences making a comeback in the UK? Apart from the Westminster Bubble, they had virtually died a death around the rest of the country. Press Conferences have been replaced by announcements being made on Twitter, an organisation’s own website, or through “media outreach”. This is contacting a list of key media outlets and titles relevant to your own company, council, housing association or NHS Trust.
It has been many years since we were asked to provide specialist “Press Conference Training”. We have however seen an increase in demand for “Select Committee Training”.
It can be a struggle to cope with incisive and direct questioning for up to an hour by some clever politicians around a horseshoe shaped arrangement in a Committee Room within the Houses of Parliament.
When should you hold a press conference?
Most people don’t really understand what happens at a Press Conference from a journalist’s perspective. There is a lot of misunderstanding around their purpose and function.
When I first started practising journalism, there were far more press conferences than there are today. Journalists saw them simply as an opportunity to either interview, or ask questions of key decision makers involved in whatever issue or story was unfolding. We had no interest in the “set pieces” at the top table, the presentations, the speeches, the expensively produced Press Packs.
The broadcast journalists, simply wanted these speeches to end as fast as they could, so we could have a “one-to-one” privately with the main players. We didn’t really want to ask questions at the Press Conference itself, because we didn’t want to give away our “angle” to other journalists. If we couldn’t get an exclusive, we at least wanted an exclusive angle.
There was also an unwritten pecking order. Radio journalists went first, because they only wanted a 3 minutes interview and had an earlier deadline – the lunchtime news, or tea time bulletin. TV went next. This is because these media interviews took longer, with the set-up shots, noddies, reverse questions etc. And print journalists went last, because their interviews went on for up to 45 minutes (each), on a one-to-one media interview and they didn’t have to present copy till around 4 pm, for the next day’s newspapers.
Press conferences on Zoom
How times have changed. For a start, Press Conferences right now, are nearly all taking place via Zoom, so no travel involved and journalists have to follow “procedure”. There is no “pecking order” any more – because everyone’s deadline is the very next minute. Even the newspaper reporters have to update their stories for the online version sometimes four times a day. And then there are the “newbies” – the social media commentators, who also want a slice of the action, for their YouTube channels, Facebook, or Instagram.
So, arguably, there are even more demands on a Press Conference now than there used to be.
The key preparation tool is the ability to answer questions from journalists without knowing what they are in advance. So, the ability to “think on your feet” quickly is paramount, as well as the ability to present a coherent argument which states your case, simply, effectively and with authority. Read our tips on preparing for a media interview for more details or contact us
Media training provides all of the above. You can badge it Press Conference Training, Select Committee Training, even Presentation Skills, but there are two key parts – the ability to “present your case” and the ability to “answer difficult questions” without prior knowledge.
This is what we offer and what we are passionate about. It is a key skill, for anyone at the top of any organisation. This is where we can make a difference. And this is how we can help you.
Posted by Andrew Carapiet, Media Director and Co-founder of Media Friendly