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Why it’s a bad idea to have a traditional press conference in a field—Merry Cherney

Full disclosure, I’m in deep water. My organization, The Urban Conservancy, is a part of the Greater New Orleans Water Collaborative, a group of 100 organizations and individuals dedicated to keeping our city above water. All the big who’s who of water innovators are involved: Gulf Restoration Network, GNO Inc., Water Works, Waggoner and Ball architects, just to name a few. Then there is me. I earned a spot on the steering committee due to my social media prowess and willingness to dedicate my time to getting the Collaborative’s name out. So I am in deep water, but am a strong swimmer.

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Steering committee member Aron Chang from Waggonner and Ball

I was eager to show my value to the rest of the steering committee and our first official press conference seemed to be my chance. I started building our platforms. Handed a WordPress account with abstract page titles and one picture, I transformed it into a robust website, created the Facebook and event pages, and gained over 200 followers in a week.

Media is my strong suit; everything else to do with press conferences was completely foreign. The opposite seemed true for the rest of the steering committee. With so many combined years of experience and varying backgrounds, everyone had a different idea how the event should work – when to send the press release versus when to send the media alert, how to contact reporters, how to promote the event, and what the physical event should look like.

After debriefing the event with the rest of the steering committee, I have gotten the blessing to compile some lessons learned.

My first piece of advice: have a media plan. Since the press release was sent out too early, it got picked up before the event even happened. This presents a few issues.  First, if the event has already been written about, it’s “old news.” Second, journalists can be bit territorial. If the event or issue was already covered, other journalists are less likely to write about you because you are again old news or another journalist’s story.

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Time to celebrate at Parkway Bakery and Tavern

The next lesson is about location choice. We chose (a.k.a. scoped out on Google maps) a beautiful spot on Bayou St. John close to Parkway Bakery and Tavern that was hosting a happy hour after the event. However, the spot was far from perfect. First there was the issue of parking. The spot we originally chose was a short hike from available parking, so we moved closer to a parking lot. Although we only moved 300 feet from the location given on the invite, we were not at the spot we told attendees, including reporters, we would be at.

There is no way to know if more people would have shown up if we didn’t move locations, but in the end we agreed location changes need to be announced and appropriate signage needs to be in place at the old spot to direct people to the new one. Most importantly, we learned that we had to physically examine the exact spot we were planning to use to make sure it will work for the event.

Location selection has a few other implications. When you have a press event, the backdrop is important for pictures and ambiance. However, there are no power outlets in the middle of a field. Let me explain: we wanted a microphone and speaker for the press conference. After securing a system and telling the retailer that the event was outside, I was surprised at pick-up to hear that we needed a power source. I am not really sure how I thought microphones worked, but I now know they definitely don’t run on batteries. So if you have an event outside and want to use a microphone, make sure you have a power source available.

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Councilwoman Susan Guidry

Final lesson: Lecterns are expensive. Lecterns are very, very expensive even to rent. We wanted to use a lectern to make the conference in a field look more professional. Planning had fallen a bit behind and we were down to the wire. The day before the event we were still looking for a lectern, but to rent it on such short notice would cost $400. My advice is to request a lectern earlier (it might be cheaper), hold the event in a space with a lectern, or get creative (I’ll expand on this in a minute).

In the end, the event was a success! There were a lot of people there and we received coverage in The New Orleans Advocate, The Louisiana Weekly, and The New Orleans Defender. For a lectern, we used a hand painted water barrel that looked better than a lectern and there were representatives from the Mayor’s office, key-supporting organizations including The Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and councilwoman Susan Guidry.

The media is a very sensitive group.  They can completely ignore you, improperly cover your story, or they can hit the nail on the head and be a microphone for your organization.  Ensuring the message you want gets across takes planning.  Make sure all information is sent out in the proper time frame, all event details are available and correct, and most importantly, hand them the narrative in the form of a press release to ensure it’s your message and not their interpretation of it that reaches the masses.

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Our lectern – a beautiful rain barrel hand-painted by Tracy Jarmon

I hope this was helpful!

 

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One comment on “Why it’s a bad idea to have a traditional press conference in a field—Merry Cherney

  1. Jack Styczynski
    October 13, 2014

    Great advice, Merry! And I hear you on your characterizations of the media!

Comments are closed.

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This entry was posted on October 13, 2014 by in VISTA Field Reports.

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