Dear Ugandan Public Relations compatriots: what are we doing when we organize “press conferences” in Kampala? What does a “press conference” mean anyway? Who are “the press” in this time and place, and why do we call it a “conference”? Are we really appreciating the media people we invite? Are we producing quality stories? I think we can do a lot better.
Let us consider our objective: to get clear, accurate and positive stories from our print journalists, TV and radio producers/presenters, bloggers and tweeters, etc. What does it take to achieve this?
Can we really expect much from the media when we hastily select a time and place, give them less than a day’s notice, then make them wait to start? So often we don’t prepare meaningful/engaging messages or give-aways, or even provide a press release with all the needed information to properly fill out the story. And how often do we take a record of who was in attendance to follow up?
The physical set-up of these “press conferences” alone tells me that we do not have the media’s interests in mind. Why do we seat speakers at a wedding-like high table facing a crowd of media? It creates a literal separation between us, which I do not believe is conducive to relationship-building. Surely our precious media guests do not find the tightly packed hoard of plastic chairs very comfortable. And oh, the tragedy of empty chairs!
I dream of back-to-back media meetings in a circle of comfy couches, where (well prepared) spokespeople can sit side-by-side a small number of media people at a time, engaging in conversation based on newsworthy messages, demonstrations, product samples, etc. Media can be informed well in advance, book a time that is convenient for them, and really have a chance to care about what is being said, to ask follow up questions, to have a celebrity learn their name and offer them a cup of tea. With adequate preparation and thoughtful selection of invitees, I believe that so much more value could be offered to the media, resulting in higher value coverage.
It seems to me that people in Kampala are often copying things they see on American TV without fully considering its underlying purpose and genesis, and whether or not it makes sense transplanted into the Ugandan context. We should consider the evolution of media, for that matter, and whether all modern media makers in Kampala are best served by the traditional “press conference” format. Let’s think about the real aim of “press conferences,” and whether there may be a better way to collaborate with our friends in the media to tell stories that are valuable and interesting to them. I believe that if PR people do a better job of respecting media people’s time and interests, ultimately better stories will be told.