NOTHING IS MORE DISAPPOINTING than working for months (or years!) to put together a fantastic meeting with top-notch speakers, breakthrough lectures, and record attendance, only to see it overshadowed with front page press coverage about how your meeting is a classic example of the corrupt influence of the pharmaceutical industry on CME or other negative stories. Why do those pesky journalists always seem to ferret out the one topic that you don't want to see plastered across the headlines? Why are they out to get us?
A surprising possibility is that they just don't know where the real story is — and it's up to you to make sure that changes. It's not as hard as you might think. As with so many things, success starts with a plan of action.
Your Media Action Plan
- 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 of your communications with the press through your designated spokesperson.
- Prepare your messages
Decide on three key messages that you most want people to remember about your meeting. Was an influential study unveiled? Did a record number of attendees come to the meeting? Did you use a new technology or teaching tool at the meeting this year? What's new and interesting? Whatever your key messages are, decide and then stick to them. Echo your messages in all of your communications with the media — press releases, press conferences, press kits, and interview content. Consistent communication increases the likelihood that your messages will get picked up.
- Practice your Q&A
This includes preparing for tougher questions you suspect may come up in an interview. Be prepared with how you want to answer. For example, if you know that questions on CME conflict of interest will come up, have a written copy of your policies handy for reference.
- Avoid “No Comment.”
If you are asked a tricky question, stay calm and take a deep breath. Answer honestly and concisely, and then bridge over to one of your key messages. Don't ignore the reporter's question, but don't hand the interview over to him/her either. Often when a journalist isn't sure where to begin, they will throw out a controversial statement, or ask a tough question to see what kind of reaction they get. “No comment” tells the reporter they've hit a hot button, and it will be much 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 do it!) 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 all the answers.
- Finally, don't forget to follow up
The temptation after a huge meeting is to kick your feet up and relax. Don't. While you are contemplating your choice of vacation destination, the reporter you spoke with is sitting down with notes trying to remember the exciting news from your meeting. 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.
Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group, a global medical communications consulting agency. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more of Goodwin's press tips, check out this column online. Visit meetingsnet.com and click on .
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