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Press conferences can pay off for meetings, events

Courtesy Syracuse CVB

Organizers of the Aflac Iron Girl Syracuse Women’s Triathlon understand the value of press conferences. When the competition chose Syracuse, N.Y., as its home last year, the Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau held a press conference to make the announcement.

Held about six months before the triathlon, the press event was well attended by local media, and the resulting news coverage enticed women competitors to sign up and local companies to help sponsor the competition.

Press conferences are among the publicity tools a CVB uses to help a convention or event build attendance, sell tickets for public events, celebrate a worthy achievement or improve public awareness.

Granted, not every sports event or convention booked by a city warrants a press conference. But when an event has a significant economic impact, an interesting news angle or a compelling story attached to it, the local CVB can organize a press conference in hopes of getting more media attention than it would by simply sending out a news release.

The service means that for little extra work, a meeting planner can get a significant pay off in publicity for a group.

To give planners a better understanding of what a CVB can do in terms of planning a press conference, we turned to Danica Bryant, communications manager for the Syracuse CVB, and Ken Vandruff, director of communications for Go Wichita. Vandruff’s background in the news media — he spent 22 years working for news organizations in Wichita — helps him gauge which meetings and conventions will be of interest to media outlets. Bryant relies on her degree in journalism to help guide her efforts.

Getting the media’s attention
Both Vandruff and Bryant agree that press conferences should be used sparingly. When CVBs have press conferences every time a convention comes to town, the news media starts to become skeptical and less likely to show up.

“It is really easy to overdo the news conference concept,” said Vandruff. “When we have a news conference, we want to make sure we have some really good news.”

In deciding whether a news conference is warranted, a number of factors are considered including a convention’s impact on the community, its news hooks and its uniqueness. “I like to keep them special so it encourages the media to attend,” said Bryant.

Most of the press conferences Syracuse has done in the past few years have been for sports events. There’s good reason, said Bryant. “These events are all open to the public, and in some cases, the public can participate. They want to build public awareness.”

Go Wichita recently realized it had a big story when it booked eight conventions in a short period of time. Instead of having news conferences to announce the larger of the conventions booked, Go Wichita opted to hold one news conference to announce them all. The eight convention groups were amenable.

All were represented at the news conference, which was covered by three television stations, two major newspapers and a radio station.

“That news conference allowed Go Wichita to demonstrate that we are working hard all the time and that we landed these conventions,” said Vandruff. “And because of their combined economic impact, we knew we stood a better chance of getting the media’s attention.”

Planner involvement
In most cases, holding a press conference means minimal work for a meeting planner.

In Syracuse, the CVB staff sends out media alerts, chooses a site for the news conference, invites local dignitaries to attend and speak, and makes arrangements for decorations, backdrops and food and beverage.

Bryant does rely on meeting planners to be her source for information about the event she is publicizing.

“I try to build a close relationship with the meeting planner, and I let them know I will be bugging them for details and for answers to my questions,” she said. “It is really helpful to work with a meeting and event planner who gets it.”

In Wichita the only task meeting planners are asked to handle is arranging for their organization’s spokesperson to prepare their own remarks for the press conference.

Adding twists and hooks
Taking an offbeat or unexpected approach can pique a news organization’s interest.

Leading up the news conference for the Aflac Iron Girl triathlon, Bryant sent the media a series of news teasers. Each supplied a fact about the triathlon without revealing the event. One described its economic impact; another noted that it would be an event for women only.

“As a result, all of the local media outlets showed up,” Bryant said. Several niche publications were on hand, including a Latin American magazine with a high percentage of women readers.

Setting the scene
News conferences can be held in a variety of settings. Bryant tries to choose sites that make sense for the group. When the New York State Harley Owners Group (HOG) announced in April that it would bring its rally to town in August, Bryant organized a press conference at a popular barbecue restaurant that was sure to be a hangout for the rally’s 2,500 motorcyclists.

The news conference was planned for 10 a.m., before the restaurant’s business hours, and its owners provided food for the event.

Bryant invited local government officials to speak, including several who were Harley owners and who wore their leathers to the news conference. The HOG group arranged for a number of members to arrive at the news conference on their motorcycles.

Supplying visual aids
To make a press conference more appealing, CVBs think in terms of appealing visuals, especially for television.

When a square dance convention came to Wichita, the CVB and local members of the group devised a warm welcome for arriving dancers at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

In addition to a welcome news conference, square dancers whirled away in their colorful skirts and shirts in the airport lobby. Television film crews were also on hand to film the action.

Getting the timing right
The timing of a press conference can determine just how much coverage an event will receive.
For the various sports events that have booked Syracuse, Bryant has found that it pays to hold a press conference five to six months in advance.

Doing so allows the media to do more expanded features as well as profiles of top competitors. In the first year of the Iron Girl, one television reporter did a series of reports about her own efforts to prepare for the triathlon.