Journalists are always on the lookout for a good story. Conferences, symposia and other events usually have at least one newsworthy story or speaker.
By briefing journalists in advance of the event and working with them during the event, you can maximise the opportunities for media coverage of your research and/or your organisation.
Leading up to the event
Assigning a media liaison officer
Include a media liaison officer on your event organising committee from the start. They can identify key topics, speakers and events that may be of interest to the media. If you want media coverage of your event, get professional help!
Selecting relevant media
- Consider the audience you would like to reach via the media (e.g. the general public, landholders, community groups, advisers, potential investors, government representatives).
- Consider specialist writers (e.g. science, environment, rural and resources writers), newspaper and magazine editors, and television and radio news directors, both local and national.
- Include relevant news services and trade publications. Be sure to include the local bureau of Australian Associated Press and local correspondents of out-of-town newspapers and magazines.
Notifying the media
The media is a crowded space – most metropolitan journalists receive hundreds of news items each day. Your event will be competing for consideration. Advance notice helps the media plan around your event.
- Inform the news media of your event several months in advance. Magazines and feature-length TV require this much notice.
- Email the media representatives initially, and follow up by phoning or visiting key journalists. Provide details of locations, dates and purpose.
- Ask media representatives to indicate whether they plan to attend and whether they would like a media kit.
Identifying interesting topics, speakers and events
- Once you have established a program, the media liaison officer should read the titles and/or abstracts of the papers to be presented and select those that appear to be most newsworthy. They may need advice from the program or event committee.
- Journalists will often ask for new research that has not been reported before. Try to identify research or policy news to announce to the media.
- The media liaison officer should then contact keynote speakers and authors of promising papers, explain the media interest and ask for advance texts or abstracts. This is most important if the media liaison officer is to do their job well.
Preparing media kits
One way of sparking media interest in a conference or other gathering is to supply journalists with a media kit in advance of the event and/or at the event.
- Mark all materials in the kit with a release time such as ‘For immediate use’ or ‘Embargoed until …’.
- Find out if the journalists you are targeting prefer hard copy or electronic versions. You can send an electronic version as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, but only to journalists who have specifically requested it (to avoid clogging up their email or being rejected by their server).
The media kit could include:
- cover page (table of contents)
- media releases
- media briefs that summarise the most interesting stories in two or three short paragraphs
- a concise list of top story ideas
- background material to help the media understand the organisation/event
- venues, dates and times, and a map showing how to get there
- accommodation arrangements for out-of-town media
- a copy of the program showing the names of principal speakers, topics and major events (including social events)
- details of meeting times, exhibit or display hours
- short bios and contact details for all major speakers
- location of the media room (and a map if necessary)
- details of any media conferences (see ‘Organising a media conference’ below), including contact details
- contact details (mobile, landline, email) for your media liaison staff
During the event
You’ve assigned a media liaison officer, selected your audience, and notified the media – now it’s the first day of the conference. Here are some hints for managing the media during your event.
Running the media room
A smoothly run media room is the key to producing news. Here, the media liaison officer performs the most vital function.
- Based on the number of media people you expect to attend, make copies of media releases, papers, abstracts and so on. Arrange them on tables chronologically, by release time. Keep a master copy of each document in the media room in case you need to make more copies.
- Make biographical information on the speakers available, either on the tables or in an electronic file. If possible, also make available a contact directory of key spokespeople.
Aims of the media liaison officer
In some ways, the media liaison officer acts like a ‘matchmaker’ – bringing researchers and journalists together.
- One of the key aims of the media liaison officer should be to get as many journalists as possible interacting with interesting researchers or spokespeople during the event. Journalists can then identify their own stories.
- The text or abstract of a paper often provides only the framework for a story. The journalist may need to interview the speaker to answer questions raised by the paper, or to make sure they fully and accurately understand the research.
- The media liaison officer may arrange media conferences or interviews with one speaker or a panel of speakers. Schedule a convenient time for the speakers and the media before the paper is to be delivered.
Scheduling media conferences
- Plan ahead (see ‘Planning a media conference’ below).
- The number of media conferences that can be scheduled during a research conference depends on the genuine news potential, the time available to journalists, and the variety of reporter interests represented. Two media conferences is the norm; four is about the limit.
- You may have to play it by ear. If there are many speakers of national or international importance, you probably should schedule more media conferences. If in doubt, ask around among the science writers present; if they’re interested in more, they’ll say so.
Running a media conference
- Start the media conference on time, even if some journalists arrive late. The spokesperson should first sum up (in about three minutes) what they want to say. If they have appropriate props, videotape, photographs, slides or charts, they should show these before questions begin. Most questions should come from the journalists, but the media liaison officer may ask a pertinent question to bring out a key point.
- If the media conference is with a panel, the chairperson should start by summing up the panel’s position. Each member of the panel may then add a few points, followed by questioning.
- Most media conferences run for 20–30 minutes. Journalists will usually want to follow up with individual interviews after the media conference, so make sure the speakers are free for an extra 10–20 minutes after the media conference.
Courtesies to the media
- Journalists welcome coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks in the media room. They should not be asked to pay registration fees for conferences/symposia/other events.
- It is also a good idea to offer complimentary tickets to conference dinners and social events – this offers for journalists and researchers the opportunity to mix on an informal basis.
- Media normally expect to pay their own hotel and travel costs. You may want to offer travel assistance to a key journalist to attend a conference. Remember, if they accept, you can’t demand coverage from them – it’s up to them to decide what is newsworthy.
Planning a media conference
Media conferences can be organised very quickly but early planning avoids potential problems.
Three to four weeks before the event
- Identify the story – why do you want to publicise it?
- Get agreement from all involved that a media event is desirable and determine with them the format of the conference.
- Identify the spokesperson.
- Choose the date and time (in the morning, early in the week, is best).
- Identify the media – local/national, radio/TV/newspaper/all.
- Draft the media release.
- Contact magazines, trade journals and specialist TV shows with longer lead times.
Two weeks before the event
- Get the media release approved by all involved (it should be approaching its final version).
- Identify and arrange photo opportunities, demonstrations etc.
The week before the event
- Progressively issue the media release on an embargoed basis.
- Book cars, equipment and mobile phones.
- Inform the local receptionist of the media conference.
- Rehearse the procedure for the day.
Two days before the event
- Issue the media release generally, on an embargoed basis.
- Follow up with major journalists by phone.
- Check the equipment needed for the day, including mobile phones.
The day of the event
- Phone television stations to see that they got the release; ‘sell’ the story.
- Be on site 90 minutes beforehand; check any directional signs, equipment; do a final rehearsal.
After the event
- Be prepared for follow-up radio interviews.
- Evaluate; hold a ‘post-mortem’.