by William Shaffer | March 01, 2005

The best friends any event coordinator can have are editors and writers for the mass and trade media who cover his organization’s industry.
    The care and feeding of the press is not an alien art form. It takes common sense and a bit of sympathy for those who have to make sense of your complex business and analyze it for your audiences.
    The following, adapted from IBM’s model, provides a plan for a press room.

In Advance
What’s on the program? Begin by analyzing the agenda. Who are the key speakers? What messages do you want the press to pick up? Which audiences do you want to reach? Which media outlets (publications/broadcast) can reach those audiences?
     Make contact. Try to find out which writers and broadcasters might cover your event, and determine their availability. Ask what special arrangements they need.
    Determine interest. Based on the number of reporters who will attend, coordinate interview opportunities and press conferences with the public relations representatives of conference sponsors and speakers. Prepare tip sheets to help the media make sense of your event.
    Find a room. Reserve a breakout room for the press near the epicenter of events. Fill it with plenty of phones, electrical outlets, land lines and broadband access. Offer computer stations linked to the web for those who don’t travel with laptops. Keep the coffee and soft drinks (and snacks, if you can afford them) replenished.

It’s Show Time
During the program, help reporters find the people with whom you want them to speak.
    " Post speaker schedules.
    " Establish an interview room (soundproofed and well lit) for one-on-ones.
    " Honor exclusivity. If one outlet fingers a source, don’t make that source available to everyone else. Have clear rules of engagement.
    " Follow up with interviewers to remind them of your organization’s messages.

Presses Roll
After your meeting is over, you’ll want to compile all the media coverage, which will help determine whether having a press room was worth the effort and if it makes sense to have one next year.
    " Gather clippings, radio tapes and videotapes, then highlight how your organization’s messages showed up in the pieces.
    " Distribute media reports to your superiors, conference sponsors, speakers and other meeting stakeholders.
    " Prepare highlights for those who couldn’t attend.
    " Solicit feedback from the press on how to make their job easier next time.

In Case of Trouble
For most meetings and conventions, the media’s relationship with the host organization is a symbiotic one. But every so often, your company or association is enmeshed in controversy, and the press might try to dig up dirt. The following tips should help you manage such situations.
    Run interference. Before any reporters can get to your leaders, brief them on what they can and can’t say, coordinating with higher-ups on the message to be delivered. Make sure all other employees know not to speak to the press about the controversy.
    Set boundaries. Let members of the media know where they are and aren’t welcome, making sure they can’t enter private meetings or other off-limits gatherings by strictly policing doors. 
    If the whole meeting is closed to the media and there is no press room, but the event might be inundated unexpectedly by inquiries, designate an empty room for the press and bring the leaders/spokespeople to them.

William Shaffer is a general partner of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Consultants in Public Relations, working with clients such as the American Medical Association.