The press conference has changed forever

The traditional press conference is dead. Long live the live blog-optimized press conference!

If you ever needed a clearer indication of how the press conference has changed, look at how Apple launched its iPhone 7 this week. Although it was still a press conference, purists would hardly have recognized it as such. In fact, it was an Apple masterclass in how to reach the masses – both directly and indirectly, at the same time.

In days of yore, a press conference was a rather mysterious event: Top company executives would turn up to share their insights with the world’s press – but ONLY the world’s press. Of course, you’d find a sizable audience of lower level company execs in the back of the room, because of the star-turn pulling power of seeing their own CEO in action.

The traditional press conference was invariably by invitation only, and there was no such thing as a live stream – the logic being that you were dealing with ‘sensitive’ information that was perhaps being shared under embargo. Best practice was to build in at least 15 minutes of your one-hour session for Q&A. More detailed info would be handed out on printed press kits, or USB sticks, and of late, even downloadable online, if you were particularly advanced – but still likely to be password-protected.

On the rare occasions when there was wi-fi in the room, it would invariably be patchy and certainly not something you could depend on for a live-blog stream. But that didn’t matter, because actually posting anything live and direct from an event itself was often frowned on – especially since press conferences were often held one day before the news was allowed to go live – more on that, later.

In those days, brands needed the media to amplify and extend their message. You couldn’t just put up a live stream to reach consumers directly, or invite a million or so people around the world to tune in to a live web broadcast … like Apple did this week.

Sure, Apple still held a press conference, but of the 7000 or so people in the auditorium, of course they weren’t all press or bloggers – but employers, partners and acolytes. Apple’s press conference was effectively a two-plus hour live commercial for its latest products. And millions of people tuned in.

Turning the tables

Apple managed to turn the traditional press conference into a movie-length consumer event – with the estimated 7000-strong audience in San Francisco literally on the edge of their seats at the start. In doing so, Apple still managed to mastermind its media coverage via those third-party amplifiers, the media.

For days in advance of the iPhone 7 launch, the media was full of confident “this is the iPhone 7 launch event” stories, chapter and verse on what would be launched (except that the oft-predicted MacBook Pro refresh failed to feature) and details of how to tune in to the live stream. This richness of pre-event info could so easily have turned the launch into a damp squib – because pretty much all the “news” regarding the new iPhone was already out there, except for the new “all black” color scheme – oh, and Super Mario, of course.

Yet this was Apple, therefore it was able to attract a cult-like following to its event, AND it was supported by live-blogs from a gamut of media outlets. Even the Wall Street Journal dedicated a blog to the event, staffed by two reporters …

In the old days, when newspapers were produced overnight, there was a very good reason for holding a press conference under embargo one day before your news – because it would deliver maximum traction. Reporters could attend your event, and have ample time to write up their stories before the embargo lifted overnight.

Today, unless you’re launching a new luxury car or something where you can invite a very select group of reporters – and make them not only sign but also stick to the NDA– then forget about an embargo. News happens in real-time.

By leveraging this, Apple fully benefited from the media live-blogging the event – because it led to an order of magnitude more coverage than could ever have been expected from an embargoed event, where publications would try to cram all the news into a single story, plus a sidebar if you were lucky.

In summary, live blogging ensures that every little bit of information that you drip feed to the audience gets media coverage – no matter how mundane it is, in the grander scheme of things … just look at some of the updates from the Apple event: It’s hardly world news that iPhone can now do e-payments in Japan, yet this got picked up and repeated around the world.

Reporters writing live blogs are under pressure to keep the updates coming, and always hungry for more. So, don’t skimp on the wi-fi access for reporters at your next press conference, and consider adding a live stream: In terms of media exposure, both will pay dividends.

Author: Simon Jones

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