Rachel Torbert, Senior Media Relations Specialist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

“Palin Interviewed as Turkeys Killed.” That was the headline after then-Governor Sarah Palin’s disastrous media event in which she granted a traditional Thanksgiving pardon to one lucky bird, while in the background video behind her, an employee of the hatchery methodically slaughtered a long line of not-so-lucky gobblers.

A media event, executed properly, is a simple, cost-effective way to amplify your messaging by working with the press to generate “earned media” coverage. But if you’ve never held one, the concept may seem intimidating. Use this checklist to ensure you’re getting the most benefit possible – and to avoid having the media talk about you for all the wrong reasons.

Ask yourself: Do I really need a media event? Don’t assume that your announcement is worth a press conference. Most announcements aren’t, to be honest, and would be handled better with a media release or an e-mail. If you’re asking a short-staffed newsroom to send a reporter or crew to a remote location, it better be worth it. Nothing is more embarrassing than holding a press conference that nobody attends!

One way to help you determine if your news is truly newsworthy is by using the “Hey Mabel Test,” an old journalism term that captured the likelihood an average reader would look up from the morning paper and call out, “Hey Mabel! Guess what I just read!”

What might cause this reaction?

  • A new product that changes the industry or solves a major consumer issue
  • A major addition to a community, such as a new factory or service center
  • Star power: A high-profile or celebrity attendee

Pick the best day, time, and location. Unless there’s a compelling reason not to, I like to hold events in the late morning, and in the middle of the week. Nobody wants to travel on a Monday or Friday, and by holding an event in the early part of the day you can help ensure that reporters have time to meet their daily deadlines.

Choosing the location is a little trickier. You want a place that’s easily accessible but also visually interesting. Every reporter who attends will want to capture video in some form, so make sure there’s something to shoot, either as part of the formal event or as B-roll that can be captured before or after the formal presentation.

Consider adding a virtual option. This may cannibalize the number of reporters who might otherwise attend in person, but it will likely increase the total amount of media coverage you get by allowing folks who wouldn’t come to your event to participate remotely.

Invite the right people, the right way. Because I have relationships with a long list of ag media professionals, I like to reach out to them personally. But if you’re starting from scratch, you need to first identify the correct parties to invite – and that means calling the station or publication, and literally asking who covers this type of story. Once you have a list of potential media personalities, you can send them a standard press release. Try to write it in active voice and include your “Hey Mabel” items to grab their attention. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a wider audience than you think will attend; all they can say is no, right? And after you’ve sent the release, follow up with a second e-mail or phone call to either verify that they received it if you haven’t heard from them or to thank them for their RSVP if you have.

Spend some time in the reporters’ shoes before they arrive. Is your location easy to find? Is there plenty of parking? Will they have to walk very far, and if so, do you have a golf cart to help them ferry their equipment? If you’re planning to be outside, do you have a backup plan in case of poor weather? Does your site include good lighting and audio capabilities? Are you prepared in case there are electrical problems? What’s going on in the background? Is it too busy? Are there appropriate refreshments and restroom facilities? Are there areas where you don’t want media present, and if so, are these areas clearly marked? Are all areas clean and presentable? The more questions you can ask – and answer – the better.

Make sure your employees are ready. Everybody should know the purpose of the event, their specific roles, and any expectations about dress code, cleaning up workstations, etc. Employees who will present or appear on camera should have some basic media training as well as time for rehearsal. Don’t wing it. Over-prepare.

Follow up after the event. If a reporter attended, be sure to thank them for coming. If not, tell them they were missed and offer to send a press packet, media kit, or an audio/video feed. Better yet, ask to schedule an interview between the reporter and one of the conference participants. Just because they didn’t attend doesn’t mean you can’t still get some favorable coverage!

These are a few of the details you’ll want to consider as you’re planning your media event. There’s a lot to making an event like this successful, but it’s generally well worth your investment. If you have questions, or aren’t sure how to begin, I’d love to have a conversation.