PR events can be pretty intimidating. On the one hand, broad-based media coverage can get you wide exposure to your audience. But on the other, you and everything you do – or don’t do – are in the literal and proverbial spotlight.
While it’s true in the case of PR event planning that practice makes perfect; I don’t think there’s a PR professional out there who doesn’t get at least a little nervous in hosting one.
But, being organized, knowing your event purpose and messaging, and following a few simple – albeit critical – guidelines, can help you plan and execute a successful event every time. Take a look below.
First though, a word of caution before we jump right in: not all company news should become PR events or press conferences. These are usually reserved for wide-ranging, high-impact announcements that affect a large number of people. Think “breaking news.” If this is you, continue on. If this maybe is not you (and that’s completely ok and very common), consider getting your news out in other ways, such as a press release or a media pitch. Learn some key “do’s” and “don’ts” in media pitching this Forbes article.
Planning the Basics
The first step in planning any PR event is to identify the basic tenets of the occasion. (Yes, it’s the ever-familiar “W”s!). This will guide the event development and all steps of execution.
What: What is the event and what’s its purpose/goal? Provide a brief description of the topic, format, context, and goals.
Also identify speakers and key partners who will serve as a “network” to support the event, including individuals who are involved in the announcement, champions of the initiative, or are otherwise related stakeholders. Not everyone in the network needs to have a speaking role, but their presence demonstrates the broader impact of, and support for, the announcement (outside the company/organization). It may also help provide visual interest for the media and offer additional context and credibility for the announcement.
- Why: Why is it important? No doubt your PR event is important to you and your company, but why should everyone else take the time from their day to attend? What is the broader impact?
- Who: Audience(s) – who is the event being held for? This could be members of the media along with others, such as the communities/readers they serve. What segment(s) of the community will be affected by the news?
- When: What date and time? This is also where knowing your “who” comes in because you’ll want to be accommodating to schedules, deadlines, etc. of your speakers and attendees as well as the media, who have to edit and file their stories.
- Where: What location will the event be held at? This is an opportunity for you to bring additional spotlight to your event. Consider hosting your PR event at a company or venue that’s a great supporter of your message; where the audience can see your work in action; or a space that has visual appeal related to your cause. One more tip – always try to host the event at a central location, as it creates easier access for all attendees and media. And don’t forget parking.
- How: Who on your team is responsible for the PR event planning? Identifying roles and responsibilities (including, ideally, a project/event/PR manager) will help keep the event planning and execution on track.
After you’ve identified the basic tenants of the PR event plan, you can begin to conduct media outreach. This should happen in varying degrees prior to, on the day of, and after the event. As always, you should reach out to members of the media who have relevant ties or interest in your story (i.e. don’t pitch an economics reporter on healthcare initiatives or an education reporter on the environment). Also a note when reaching out to local city/town media – be sure your event has something to do with that town, as the local media is hyper-focused on news relevant to their residents.
- Exclusives: You may want to strategically identify and invite one or a few reporters for a “pre” PR event. Especially for more complex topics, this allows you to provide full context of the announcement and give the reporter the opportunity to ask “deep-dive” questions about the topic, so they can better understand the story and the value of your announcement.
- Pre-Event: Draft and distribute a media alert (aka “press advisory”) 2-3 days in advance of the event. Send the alert in the body of an email and as an attached document. Include a personal note to each media contact whenever possible. Be available to provide any additional information as requested. On the day before the PR event, follow up with phone calls to the media outlets, as this is when they are making up their tentative schedules.
- Post-Event: Distribute a press release recapping the event news/announcement. For media that does attend the event, provide a hard copy of the press release to them at the event in their media kit. For media that does not attend, or if you are looking to send the release out on the wire to a larger audience, distribute the release shortly after the event has ended. Send the release in the body of the email and as an attached document. Provide event photos whenever possible. And include a personal note to each media contact if you can.
Project Team and Logistics
The key to successful PR event planning and execution is to have a designated project manager, pre-approved plan, and regular planning meetings leading up to the event. This ensures that each of your team contributors are on the same page and provides an opportunity to correct-course should adjustments need to be made (such as a change in the event agenda to accommodate your keynote speaker; or coordination with your internal photographer to ensure you provide images requested by a media outlet or your company’s social media director).
Here’s a punch list of logistics to consider in PR event planning (not listed in any specific order):
- Secure venue
- Identify visual opportunities
- Scope out electrical access
- Produce any needed displays/info
- Schedule speakers and attendees
- Invite public officials (if applicable).
- Compile a contact list of planners, speakers, etc.
- Create an event “utility” kit (e.g. notepads, pens, pencils, tape, stapler, staples, paper clips)
- Draft media alert and press release
- Conduct media outreach
- Produce media kits (including press release, fact sheet, relevant photos/video, backgrounder, biographical material, etc.)
- Develop an agenda for the event
- Identify an “MC” for the event
- Document the event flow, including timing and introductions of speakers to ensure seamless transitions between speakers
- Develop scripts/outlines for speakers (this could be full speaking points or key message points depending on your speaker’s preference and style)
- Consider conducting media training for your speakers and anyone who might be approached by the media for the event
- Identify one media contact and one spokesperson from your company (this can be one or different people, but preferably with media training and experience)
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Giselle Mahoney is an account executive with RDW Group. Her life credits include being a mom, wife, mar/comm professional, and wannabe gardener. Success is sometimes questionable on the latter.