Friday, October 30, 2009

Rolling the dice with a press conference

With a struggling economy, journalists and editors pink slipped more often than baseball managers, and editorial staffs cut to the bone, it takes some kind of cajones to have a press conference these days.

Press conferences are one of public relations' great gambles. It's like throwing a party, sending out a lot of invites, and then praying somebody shows up after you've invested in decor, food and time.

What does it take to pry a reporter away from their desk, especially when they are probably stretched thinner than ever?

Clearly if you are Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo or the President of the United States, you can pretty much count on everybody showing up, even if it was held on an ice floe in the Arctic.

Not long ago, I had lunch with the head of marketing of a Colorado-based digital start-up who was so smitten by his company's product that he proclaimed that it deserved a press conference. Delicately, I asked him what if nobody turned up because they were, uh, so busy? He stopped for a moment -- he had not thought about that -- and then replied that there's no reason nobody would come to a product that was so cool.

However, if anybody get an award for pulling a rabbit out of their press conference hat, it has to be CNN.com. Last week, on the same day Steve Ballmer was unveiling Windows 7, they held a snazzy soiree at the Time Warner Center to demonstrate... drum roll, please... the redesign of their web site with a new opinion section, and more photography and video.

Did that rock your world like, let's say, the introduction of the new Motorola Droid or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts at Madison Square Garden? Didn't think so. Redesigns happen about as often as Metro North trains leave Grand Central Station.

But somebody at CNN.com felt it was worth a live press conference. And not just any press conference, but from what I hear, a lavish one with booze and food. So with that kind of lure, it was no surprise that many members of the third estate showed up. One of them said that CNN.com threw two parties to celebrate the occasion (perhaps to grab the media's attention off the fact that the parent network fell into last place against other news cablers).

Another reporter said they didn't think it was a press conference at all, but "more akin to an internal presentation" that was streamed live to employees, advertisers and the press.

Afterwards, about 25 stories were posted according to Google News. Whether this was the press coverage return on investment CNN.com was looking for after spending some serious party coin, I don't think they'll admit it, versus being a company-wide morale booster.

"Between you and me -- it was strange," one reporter e-mailed me, who didn't post a story about it. "CNN even booked an outside PR firm for help with it."

Free food and booze have almost always the surefire aphrodisiacs to get coverage of any event. Despite the depleting of journalist ranks, they still seem to do the trick -- if you can afford the bill.

1 comment:

Tarunjeet said...

love the article ... so true... what I would also like to highlight that it also takes great courage on the part of a PR person to ask a client who is so taken in by their own product to question 'do you really think this needs a PC?' especially at times when client retention is so difficult. But good PR professionals should do that. It might not go down well with the client but they will respect you for the advice in hindsight. And will also add credibility to your reputation as a PR rep.

Warm Regards,
Tarunjeet
PR SPACE
www.spacedesigns.net