Organizing a Press Conference

The Basics

A press conference can help publicize your event to many news outlets in your region. If you are putting together a rally, vigil, free clinic or large event, a press conference can be used to publicize the issue.

Contact AMSA's Director of Public Relations at pr@amsa.org or (703) 620-6600 ext. 207 for help in planning your press conference.

Who's coming?

  1. Star Quality: To maximize media attendance at your news conference, it is beneficial to have at least one high-profile personality participating (e.g. dean, AMSA national officer, community organizer, police chief or the mayor). It is important to plan ahead and give enough notice to your invited participants.
  2. Diversity: It will be important to show a cross-section of participants. This will demonstrate that the issue is a concern to everyone. Try to enlist participants from medical, religious, business, education and civic organizations. Strive for ethnic and gender diversity among participants.
  3. Use your titles, MD: Don't underestimate the credibility of physicians and physicians-in-training. The public respects and listens to doctors.

EXAMPLE: The University of California-Irvine AMSA Chapter kicked off their Students Teaching AIDS to Students (STATS) program by organizing a news conference. Invited guests: a physician specializing in AIDS research, a young student with AIDS, the AMSA STATS local coordinator and the principal of the school where the STATS program will be implemented.

Location, Location, Location

  1. Eye candy: Use a location that is easily accessible but also visually interesting for the media. Examples include a hospital emergency room, local school or steps of the state capitol. Obtain a permit in advance if needed!
  2. Visuals: Use visual aids at your news conference (e.g. put an AMSA banner behind the podium or on it, charts or graphs, handout materials).

When to hold the event

  1. Try to hold the news conference Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Avoid Mondays and Fridays. If at all possible, hold the event between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Earlier than 10:00 am is hard for reporters to make. After 2:00 pm is sometimes too late for evening news. 10:00 am or 11:00 am are the best times-because many noon newscasts will include the event.

Getting the media's attention

  1. Write a media alert that will serve as your announcement of the news conference/event to the press. Be sure to include who, what, where, when and why. Keep it short! Make sure to include a contact name and phone number.
  2. Contact the National Office for press materials. The Director of Public Relations can provide you with background materials, the history of AMSA, National Student leadership bios, fact sheets, etc. Do not reinvent the wheel-this information is already available for you.
  3. Most important media contact: The Associated Press daybook. This outlet lists press events for the following day and goes to almost all medical outlets. Call to make sure the event is listed. By noon the day before the event, FAX the advisory to the daybook editor.
  4. Fax: One day before the event, all area media outlets should receive the advisory (e.g. newspapers, school newspaper, medical publications, TV stations and radio stations). It is best to FAX the release directly to each outlet early in the morning. If you need a fax machine, contact your medical school public relations office or student affairs office. If a fax machine is unavailable, contact the AMSA National Office-Public Relations Department, and we can fax your release for you.
  5. Follow up: One day before the event, call the assignment editors to confirm fax transmission, and make sure they know about the event. Talk it up as much as possible to encourage coverage! Many TV stations do not make their assignments until the day of the event. It is worth calling the TV assignment editors again between 8:30 am and 9:00 am the day of the event.

Setup

  1. The right equipment: Are you using a microphone? Is there electricity? Do you have/need a podium? Do you have something for the microphone to sit on or attach to?
  2. Arrange a press table: This is where reporters sign in and pick up materials. One person should be the "meeter & greeter" of reporters.
  3. Permit: Do you need a permit for the location you have selected? Get one, bring it.
  4. If it is an outdoor event, is there a rain location?
  5. All participants should stand together behind the mike or podium so that everyone is in the picture.
  6. Make sure that visuals are not placed too high so as to be out of the picture, or too low so as to be blocked by the participants.

Speaking Order

  1. Who's next? Determine the order of speakers in advance. It is preferable to have each person come to the microphone and introduce him/herself. Remember to distribute a speakers list to the press as well as the speakers themselves.

Length

  1. Short and sweet: Each speaker should keep remarks short. The overall length of the news conference should only be 20--30 minutes (including Q & A period). If there are a lot of speakers, each may only be able to speak for 2 minutes, or so.
  2. Not all participants need to speak. Ask groups to send a representative, even if he or she does not wish to speak-this aids in showing the depth of support.
  3. Speakers should distribute copies of their statements to the media. If they are ready in advance, they can be included in the press kits. If not, they can be placed on the press table.

Questions

  1. Often the press will ask questions. They may direct them specifically to one speaker. If not, you, as the host should be prepared to answer any questions that come up. If they ask a question that you cannot answer, don't be afraid to say you're not sure and get back to them later.
  2. Reporters often want one-on-one interviews with speakers after the Q & A period. This is your chance to clarify or cover information not brought out in the Q & A.

Post-event follow-up

  1. After the event, you will want to send a good quality photo to the newspapers in your region. Include the basics of the event, such as the "who, what, when, why, where" information, highlight any special happenings and the successes. Think of it as a news brief or mini-story.

Media Contacts

EDITORIAL CONTACT:
Joshua Caulfield, IOM
Executive Director
jcaulfield@amsa.org

Pete Thomson
Dir of Publications & TNP Editor
45610 Woodland Road - Suite 300
Sterling, Virginia 20166
pr@amsa.org

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