NOTHING IS MORE DISAPPOINTING than working for months to put together a top-notch meeting, only to see it overshadowed by negative press coverage about some controversy having to do with your company. Why do journalists always seem to focus where you don't want them to?

One answer is that they don't know where the real story is … and it's up to you to change that. Here's a plan of action for getting the best press.

Hire a PR professional — A public relations expert can help you to identify the exciting news coming out of your meeting, write materials in “press speak,” organize press conferences, prepare you for the interview process, and help you stay on top of post-meeting followup.

Dedicate a press team — The best way to ensure that everyone around your meeting speaks with one voice is to limit the number of people doing the talking. Channel all your communications with the press through your designated spokesperson.

Prepare your messages — Decide on three key things that you want people to remember about your meeting. Did you get a record number of attendees? Did you introduce a new product or technology? Whatever your messages are, decide and then stick to them. Echo them in all communications with the media — press releases, press conferences, and interviews.

Practice your Q&A — This includes preparing for tough questions you suspect may come up in an interview. Figure out in advance how you want to answer.

Avoid “No Comment” — If a tricky question comes up, stay calm. Answer honestly and concisely, and then bridge to one of your key messages. Don't ignore the person who asked the question, but don't hand the interview over to that person. Often when a journalist isn't sure where to begin, he will throw out a controversial statement or ask a tough question to see what kind of reaction he gets. “No comment” tells the reporter he's hit a hot button, and it will be more difficult to shake the topic.

If you don't know the answer, don't guess — Tell the reporter that you'd be happy to research the question and get back to him or her, and then bridge over to one of your key messages. You might say something like “I'm not the best person to answer that question, but let me find out who would be, and I'll get back to you later today. What I can tell you is _____ [bridge back to your message].” Be as informative as possible, but remember that it's OK if you don't have the answer.

Don't forget to follow up — The temptation after a huge meeting is to kick back and relax. Don't. While you are kicking back, the reporter is sitting down with notes trying to find a hook for the story. A phone call from you with a friendly reminder of your key messages and an offer of help with details makes you a great resource and results in a more accurate article.

Pick Your Weapons | Meeting PR tools

Press registration — Make it easy and free. You want to encourage journalists to come to your meeting.

Media alert — This should go out to your press list a month before the event to remind them of the date, time, venue, and the exciting topics to come.

Press liaison — Pick one person to be a resource for journalists. This person should be well versed in all your key messages and be willing to spend the time and energy to support journalists as they develop their stories.

Press room — A quiet place for reporters to work. Provide a room with computers, Internet connection, phones, faxes, and a quiet space for interviews.

Press kit — This core communication should have a lead press release with all your key messages, background information about your company, brief bios of your best speakers, and a copy of the program.

Press conferences — This daily check-in with the press is an opportunity to showcase the key accomplishments of the day before and the highlights for the coming day.