The PR aspects of the Flint Water Crisis are a case study in the making, albeit one written in pencil, as the “Wow Factor” seems to increase by the day. But here’s an easy takeaway that shouldn’t evoke controversy. It’s about the staple of PR that isn’t going away, even as the business changes quickly – press conferences.
This past week, Michigan’s Governor hosted a press conference that promised “major announcements” about the Flint situation. It also offered updates, which is always a good idea in a crisis. It promised Flint’s Mayor and other principals. The Governor’s Communications Office billed it to social media followers as a “Live Event” and encouraged online viewing at 11am. Local and statewide media outlets did the same.
But at 11:00, there was no press conference, just an empty podium. I know because, like others presumably, I was watching online. A staffer came out twice to say that the event would be starting “soon.” The second of those announcements came at about 11:15 and was met with resistance, almost heckling, from the assembled media. I could hear on the stream “That’s what you said the last time!” “We’re wasting batteries” and “We have live trucks running.” The frustration was palpable and understandable.
As a viewer, how long do you give something to start before you tune out. A few minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? And then when do you go back to it? A few minutes later? Ten minutes later? Never? On time starts guarantee on time audience attention.
The press conference ultimately started at 11:23 a.m. That’s inexcusable. The Governor and other speakers basically started in a hole when they could have started on even ground.
A couple of days later, the University of Michigan announced its new Athletic Director in a manner promoted similarly by the University and media. That press conference started on time, to the minute. Audiences certainly felt more respected.
In this modern era, when press conferences are for more than press, it’s imperative to start them on time. In a crisis, it remains fundamental to not to anything to antagonize the media. It’s really not very complicated.