The pointless press conference

Mark Lyndersay
Mark Lyndersay


IT’S A NEW year, it’s a new day and it’s time to share some thoughts with my esteemed colleagues in corporate communications and public relations.

So. About those press conferences.

I don’t get invited to many of these events, but I get to enough of them to discover some alarming similarities.

Let’s discuss some.

Have something to say.

Don’t hold a press conference to announce something that could be more efficiently conveyed by four clear sentences backed up by technical details and supporting media assets.

It’s not that I don’t like you. But it does take time to get to an event, much of it spent in traffic, so even if your people are charming and attractive, through no fault of your own, we’re starting off on the wrong foot.

I’ve been to at least one dramatically off-base event that hauled media and ministers into a dingy, poorly-lit room to announce a PBX.

I walked out and promptly forgot about the whole misbegotten venture. Until now. And I’m getting pissed off all over again thinking about it.

If the highlight of your event is to cut a ribbon, hold up an oversized cheque or to press a big button that does something colourfully irrelevant, then it might be time to rethink strategy.

Have the right person speak.

Yes, the suits need their moment under the bright lights. Some of them even look dazzling behind the podium, testimony to their carefully cultivated image.

Then they open their mouth and all fall down.

Particularly for tech-relevant subjects, I’d rather get five minutes of passionate, detailed oratory from the actual architect of the project or product and struggle to keep up than sit through another aspirational exercise in vague speech-writing that’s so top-level that it runs out of oxygen.

I’ve watched TSTT’s Hassel Bacchus and Digicel’s Chandrika Samaroo spin up with enthusiasm enough times to know what that looks like when it’s going well, or at least until a suit gets nervous and pulls them back on message.

Take questions.

Then be ready for them. Even the ones you’d really prefer weren’t asked.

No, I don’t want to have quiet little chats over cocktails after the main event. Facing the media and clarifying your message outside of the office echo chamber is actually the whole point of a press conference.

Make a point of supplying supporting text and images directly after the event.

Minimise the pomp.

Yes, I know this is your big branding moment, but the streamers and balloons in company colours begin to make the whole thing seem like a dangerously over-the-top wedding.

And it won’t just be your decorator’s ambitions you need to keep under control.

At the very last press conference I attended this year, as a government minister approached the podium, I heard a gentle whisper from the speaker behind me.

I turned to fully address the black grille.

Was. That. A. Fanfare?

Yes it was, just quiet enough to be missed, but absolutely there, just like a film soundtrack.

Now it’s quite likely this was a DJ lining up the pitch for his next gig, but it might also be a bit of ministerial hubris.

If it’s the latter, then I say lean right into it.

Commission composer John Williams who must be absolutely fed-up of saving bad Star Wars movies by now, and play the theme loud.

Consider what he did for one guy wearing tights in primary colours and another with a soup pot on his head dressed in black. Heck, the man even made Bruce the shark a rock star with just two notes.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of An expanded version of this column can be found there


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