Planner's Workshop: Pre-Event: Building Media Hype for Special Events

If your meeting or special event warrants publicity and media attention (for example, if it features a celebrity, an expert in the field, or a government official), you should consider doing both pre-event and post-event publicity. First off, realize that not every event that you schedule is necessarily as compelling (and therefore coverable) to the media as it is to your supervisors or your client. Competition for space in a publication's "news hole" or a 22-minute news broadcast is keen, and the president of your financial services firm talking about retirement planning is unlikely to be as appealing to a local news outlet as the opening of a new shopping mall.

Take advantage of the fact that the total audience for your event is always larger than your actual audience. Media representatives may not be able to attend—but that does not necessarily mean they're not interested.

Post-event publicity enables you to reach your audience by reporting on your meeting or event, either by writing and distributing a news release with a few compelling photos or by talking to a reporter after the fact and describing what went on. When one importer of a high-quality coffee invited food and travel editors to a press briefing to introduce the coffee, not all invited journalists showed up. The day after the event, the organizer used a messenger service to send packages of coffee, along with press material, to the media reps who hadn't attended. (None sent the coffee back.)

Before, during, and after your event, you should develop and distribute a "press kit"—a package of information—for reporters and correspondents who are present, or who you think would have an interest in your event, as determined by the "beat" they cover or by your knowledge of their interests, perhaps obtained through a telephone call. You may also use this material as an information kit for any officials or other opinion leaders you want to keep fully informed.

But remember the purpose of the press kit is to inform journalists quickly about what's going on and to give them relevant, usable information for any articles they may want to write or spot they want to broadcast. Avoid the temptation, common among well-meaning but inexperienced PR personnel and event planners, to regard media who show a modicum of interest in an event as a "captive audience" and to flood media attendees with reams of information about the sponsor of the meeting or event.

What should you include in your press kit at an event? Here's what a reporter or correspondent expects:

1. A news release, no longer than two pages and often no longer than one page, describing the event.

2. A background sheet, preferably one page, that briefs the reporter on all key details that he or she must know to understand what's going on. For example, if your school is demonstrating a new fiber-optic hookup of TV monitors in schools around the country, a background sheet could describe how transmission via fiber optics works and how it differs from traditional means of transmission. It would describe benefits and costs, and could contain some quotes from authorities in the field.

3. Include a photo or illustration of some important aspect of the event, preferably showing action, as opposed to a simple "mug shot" of an individual, unless the individual is the focus of the event. A kit for distribution at the opening of a new building would have photos of the building's exterior and interior. The dedication of a new computer center might show users at the computers, working with the aid of the center's director.

4. Distribute copies of speeches or other remarks (if available) to be made by key officials or others at the event.

That's about it. Putting all these items in a simple folder with two pockets, or a folder imprinted with your organization's logo, is all that the media needs. And don't try to shepherd media around to meet your company's executives. A reporter interested in talking with any of them will let you know it—as long as you brief her or him about the news value of doing so. When talking to, or preparing materials for, the press, less often translates to more.

George Haber is president of Information Services, a public relations and event-planning agency in Jericho, NY. He has taught college courses in marketing and promotion, and conducted seminars on event planning. He can be contacted at (516) 822-9756 or [email protected]

Originally published October 01, 2007

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