Why won’t anyone come to my press conference?

by Erik Cummins on May 9, 2011

Apollo 11

Many years ago, I took a college class in public relations. My professor , an interesting fellow who had also been a journalist and a media watchdog, had worked in the 1960s at BBDO, then and now one of the world’s largest ad agencies.

In those days, one of his tasks was to help NASA publicize the Apollo moon launch program from 1969 to 1972. True to the times, the ad campaign was straight out of an episode of Mad Men: the NASA “men” had crew cuts, the press guys had pipes and everyone wore thin ties. And paired with that campaign were innumerable press conferences, press releases and man-on-the-street interviews. It was a made for TV event, after all, and those press conferences were always very well attended. Just think of how thrilling it was to watch the moon landings on TV. Likewise, the Watergate hearings and Vietnam.

Times have changed. The Internet, social networking and instant messaging tools like Twitter are the kings of breaking news today. Not surprisingly, television and radio stations no longer wear the crown as the lead news outlets for the news. As a result, local stations and the Big Four networks have closed bureaus, laid-off reporters, and become mere skeletons of their former selves. That’s even true for the cable news outlets like CNN and MSNBC. They just can’t keep up with the Internet. Just last week, for instance, social media sites broke the Osama bin Laden story hours before the White House could issue an official statement or the traditional media could get a handle on the news.

With so few resources, radio and TV stations rarely send reporters to press conferences any more, unless it’s presided over by the governor or the President.

Unfortunately, that reality has yet to hit lawyers, many of who believe that press conferences are a key element to any successful media campaign. Even today, we regularly get requests to set up press conferences for clients large and small.

Like my earlier post on the death of the press release, I usually advise clients that they don’t need to waste their efforts on press conferences. A simple and very quick email to the wire services usually suffices. Once those services – each of which is highly competitive – pick up the story, then it almost instantly hits the web and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, many reporters have their Twitter accounts and can skip a step between the news outlet and the aggregator.

Some attorneys argue that their big cases really need the pomp of a full-blown press conference. “I mean, hey, this is a big, big lawsuit!” I reply that there’s really no “pomp” to a press conference when no one shows up. Unless it’s the Apollo program, of course.


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