Journalists are always on the look out for a good story. Conferences, symposiums and other events usually have at least one newsworthy story or speaker. Briefing journalists in advance of the event and working with them during the event, you can maximise the opportunities for media coverage of your research and/or your organisation.
Before the event
Assigning a media liaison officer
Include a media liaison officer on your event organising committee right from the start. They can identify key topics, speakers and events that may be of interest to the media.
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Selecting the relevant media
Consider the audience you would like to reach via the media, e.g.
- the general public
- community groups
- potential investors
- government representatives
Use the media most suited to your audience:
- consider specialist writers (e.g. science, environment, rural, resources writers), newspaper and magazine editors, and television and radio news directors - local and national
- include relevant news services and trade publications
- be sure to include the local bureau of Australian Associated Press and local correspondents of out-of-town newspapers and magazines
Notifying the media
The media is a crowded space - most metropolitan journalists receive hundreds of news items each day. Your event will be competing for consideration. Advance notice helps the media plan around your event. Inform the news media of your event several months in advance. Magazines and feature length TV require this much notice. Email the media representatives initially and follow up by phoning or visiting key journalists. Provide details of location, dates and purposes. Ask media representatives to indicate whether they plan to attend and whether they want a media kit.
Identifying interesting topics, speakers and events
Once you have established a program, the media liaison officer should read the titles and/or abstracts of the papers to be presented and select those that appear to be most newsworthy. They may need advice from the program or event committee. Journalists will often ask for new research that has not been reported prior to the event. Try to identify research or policy news to announce to the media. The media liaison officer should then contact keynote speakers and authors of promising papers, explain the media interest, and ask for advance texts or abstracts. This is most important if the media liaison officer is to do their job well.
Preparing media kits
Some media liaison officers make up media kits to send to journalists in advance of the event, and/or make available at the event. You can send an electronic version of the media kit as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, but only to journalists who have specifically requested it (avoid clogging up their email or being rejected by their server). If you do, mark all materials with a release time such as ‘For immediate use’ or ‘Embargoed until…’. The media kit could include:
- a concise list of story ideas
- embargoed media releases
- media briefs that summarise the most interesting stories in 2-3 short paragraphs
- a copy of the program showing the names of principal speakers, subjects, and major events (including social events)
- details of meeting times, exhibit/display hours
- location of the media room (and a map if necessary)
- accommodation arrangements for out-of-town media
- telephone numbers and names of the media liaison staff
Setting up the media room
When you invite media to a conference, you need a media room or you may just need a space where journalists can interview speakers or see a demonstration. If you do need a media room, reserve it at the same time that rooms for other sessions are being reserved. If possible, reserve a second room nearby where television and radio representatives and photographers can hold filmed or taped interviews and take photos.
The room should:
- be relatively immune to outside noise interference
- have enough power outlets
- have the option to turn off air conditioners or other noise sources inside the room.
For media conferences, you may need a third room furnished with enough chairs. However, the radio/television interview room may be adequate to serve this purpose.
Staff the media room at all times with the media liaison officer or an assistant. It is also good to have a member of the host organisation or other expert on call to answer technical questions and to find people for interviews. You can get volunteers (trainee journalists or science communicators) to help out.
- Register and issue media badges to journalists as they enter the media room.
- Keep a list of their names and mobile phones/emails/hotel rooms so you can contact them if important news breaks.
Offer registration to communication officers from speakers' institutions, professional societies, and other groups. They can provide background on their people, arrange interviews, and offer other assistance to media covering the meeting.
The media room should be operational on the afternoon of the day before the conference opening. Some journalists will begin arriving and working then. You can also expect some journalists to want to use the media room facilities until late in the evening at times during the conference.
Media room requirements for major events
For major events such as large conferences, consider equipping the main news room with:
- telephone jacks for computer modems
- at least 1 telephone, but preferably 2 or 3 more for very large events
- broadband internet access with cables for around six computers
- a computer with a modem and a printer
- sufficient power outlets for around 6 computers
- a fax machine
- a photocopier
- work tables and chairs
- tables for displaying paper texts, releases and other handouts
- a bulletin board or blackboard for notices
- relevant publications on the aims, purposes, history and structure of the sponsoring organisation
- copies of local telephone directories
- plenty of copies of the official program
If you are expecting significant TV or radio interest, make sure your plenary conference venue and your media conference room are each equipped with a splitter box.
During the conference
Running the media room
A smooth-running media room is the key to producing news. Here, the media liaison officer performs the most vital function.
Based on the number of media people you expect to attend, make copies of media releases, papers, abstracts etc. Arrange them on tables, chronologically by release times. Keep a master copy of each document in the media room in case you need to make more copies. Make biographical information on the speakers available, either on the tables or on file. If possible, also make available a contact directory of key spokespeople.
One of the key aims of the media liaison officer should be to get as many journalists as possible interacting with interesting researchers or spokespeople during the event. Journalists can then identify their own stories. In some ways, the media liaison officer acts like a ‘perfect match’ bureau - bringing researchers and journalists together. The text or abstract of a paper often provides only the framework for a story. The journalist may need to interview the speaker to amplify, to answer questions raised by the paper, or to make sure they fully and accurately understand the research.
The media liaison officer may arrange media conferences or interviews with one speaker or a panel of speakers. Schedule a convenient time for the speakers and the media before the paper is to be delivered.
Scheduling and running media conferences
The number of media conferences that can be scheduled during a research conference depends on:
- the genuine news potential
- the time available to journalists
- the variety of reporter interests represented
Two media conferences are usual; 4 is about the limit. You may have to play it by ear. If there are many speakers of national or international importance, you probably should schedule more media conferences. If in doubt, ask around among the science writers present; if they're interested in more, they'll say so.
Start the media conference on time, even if some journalists arrive late. The spokesperson should first sum up (in about 3 minutes) what they want to say. If they have appropriate props, videotape, photographs, slides, or charts, they should show these before questioning begins. Most questions should come from the journalists, but the media liaison officer may ask a pertinent question to bring out a key point.
If the media conference is with a panel, the chairperson should start by summing up the panel's position. Each member of the panel may then add a few points, followed by questioning.
Most media conferences run for 20-30 minutes. Journalists will usually want to follow up with their own individual interviews after the media conference, so make sure the speakers are free for an extra 10-20 minutes after the media conference.
Courtesies to the media
Journalists welcome coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks in the media room. They should not be asked to pay registration fees for conferences, symposiums or other events. It is also a good idea to offer complimentary tickets to conference dinners and social events - this offers journalists and researchers the opportunity to mix with each other on an informal basis.
Media normally expect to pay their own hotel and travel costs. You may want to offer travel assistance to a key journalist to attend a conference. If they accept, you can’t demand coverage from them - it’s up to them to decide what is newsworthy.