Micerc a guide for Developing Crisis Communication Plans Office of Public Health Preparedness




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Guidelines For News Conferences



There are many guidelines for news conferences. News conferences are an effective way to get your message out and keep the public and the media informed. As a tool use them wisely. In general there is a tendency to overuse them. Setting up a news conference requires considerable time and resources. Because of their importance, news conferences should be conducted with great forethought and preparation. News conferences require a high level of communication professionalism. During a crisis you may need to schedule them on a regular basis in order to keep the public and the media informed as events unfold.


The location is important. Very often it is appropriate and effective to hold the conference at the site of the event, however, if the FBI designates the site a crime scene this will be impossible. Moreover, if the scene is contaminated it would obviously be unsuitable.


There are many places to hold press conferences, such as, city hall, a county building, a nearby federal building or a conference room at a hotel or university. Whatever location you choose be sure it has sound equipment and/or sufficient electrical outlets. Technical failures can seriously interrupt and detract from a news conference’s effectiveness. Be sure to make arrangement for your own sound or video-recording equipment, as it is important to have your own documentation of the event.


Be sure to invite all local, regional, and national TV, radio and print media. Equal thought has to be given to which members of the response team will be invited other than the spokesperson(s). Note: Whomever, you invite in this category, be mindful of the fact that they are fair game for the media and may be interviewed in addition to your official spokespeople, so think carefully about whom you include. You may want to brief some of these participants prior to the news conference.


Give the media as much lead time as possible and remember that it takes time for the broadcast media to set up cameras and microphones. An hour is the shortest reasonable notice. A half-page media advisory will suffice in most instances. While the timing of a news conference may sometimes be dictated by necessity, it is vital to keep in mind the media’s respective deadlines or you might not make it on the evening’s news or in the morning newspaper.


At the conclusion of a news conference you need to evaluate its successfulness. Did you maintain control? Did you get your major messages across? What issues and questions was the media most concerned with?


Media Interviews



The most important thing to remember is that an interview is not a conversation. Interviews can be spontaneous or can be planned. Your goal is to remain in control of the message.


When a reporter calls without warning, immediately ask yourself if you have sufficient time and preparation to conduct an interview at that time. Ask the reporter what their story is about and how they are going to frame the story.


Show the reporter some consideration and ask them what their deadline is. You may also use this information to suggest that you call the reporter back at a specific time. This will allow you to prepare for the interview and gather your thoughts.


If you have had no prior contact with a reporter you should ask them where they obtained your name. This will inform you about whom they may have spoken with already and perhaps provide you with a sense of what is expected of you. You are probably not the first person the reporter has spoken to so ask whom else they have interviewed and who they are planning to interview. Once you have a sense of what the story is about, ask yourself if you are the most appropriate person from your agency to speak with the reporter. If you think someone else is better informed about the topics being discussed they may be a better spokesperson. If someone else is more appropriate tell the reporter that they will benefit from speaking with another individual. Offer to arrange the contact.


Don’t be pressured by the event or the reporter into stretching yourself beyond your knowledge base. Avoid speculation. If you don’t know the answer to a specific question tell the reporter you will find out the information and call them back or have someone who is better informed call them back. Above all be honest and strive to maintain your credibility.


As with all interviews do not fall into the psychological trap of thinking you are simply having a conversation. The reporter has specific goals and objectives in mind. Everything you say is important and on the record. When the interview is concluded do not loose focus of the fact that even in post-interview conversations with the reporter everything is on the record whether they have turned off their recording equipment or not. The interview is not over until they hang up the phone or leave the room.


Preparing for an interview: Be clear about what your goals and objectives are. Have concise prepared statements so you can tell your story succinctly. Anticipate the questions the reporter will ask and prepare to answer all questions including the “hard” ones. Have your co-workers help you prepare. Be sure to have statements and answers that are written in an oral discourse and not a written discourse. Write for the spoken word. Avoid sounding stilted and formal. Alleviate jargon and acronyms from your prepared statements. Reporters often think in terms of problems and solutions. Be clear about what the problem is and what your solutions are.


How to conduct a successful interview: Be relaxed. Focus on being in control of the interview process. Avoid being hostile to the interviewer. If you are unsure of a question ask to have it repeated. If anything is unclear during the entire interview process ask for clarification. Be honest, friendly and positive.


Do not respond to hypothetical questions and do not let reporters pressure or bully you.

Avoid negative answers and “no comment.” Journalists often try to use silence or lapses in the interview as a trap. Do not fall for it by jumping in to fill in the silence. As difficult as it sounds try to enjoy the process and the control you can assert by being alert and responsive. Be sure to reiterate your core messages.


There are a few ground rules for conducting the event. Before the speakers and staff enter the press -room have it clearly established who will stand where, etc. The media need to know in advance if questions will be accepted from the podium. If you are taking questions you need to decide in advance how you will accept questions from the reporters and the time limit of the conference. Be sure to inform the media in advance of the conference’s time limit. You also need to decide if a moderator or official will lead the conference. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Each official should introduce themselves by name, title, and organization.


Another crucial decision you need to make in advance and inform the press about is whether officials will conduct standup media interviews one on one with reporters.


At the conclusion of the conference be sure to inform the press where they can obtain more information, including when there might be another press conference and how they will be notified. Handouts, backgrounders and fact sheets are essential. They help the media do their job and help you drive home the message and important facts of the story.


Your job at the end of the conference is to evaluate the event. Were you successful in delivering key messages? How well did the spokesperson (people) perform? What seemed to be the most persistent questions? Do you need to follow up with specific reporters and clarify or augment the information?


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