The good old press conference remains a tried and true approach for utilities to communicate during emergency outages despite the ever-growing onslaught of new age tactics like social media. The reason is that customers want reassurance that utility leadership understands and empathizes with what they are going through. It is a form of reputational damage control, plain and simple. Unfortunately, holding effective press conferences is more of an art than a science. As such, I thought it would be useful to provide some tips to help optimize their effectiveness.
Press Conference Best Practices
- Timing – In today’s world of instant information, it is important to hold your press conferences as soon as the information becomes available. Mid-morning is historically considered the optimal time, but again, the preferred timing should not trump speed. Simply put, the quicker the information is presented, the greater the degree of reputational damage control.
- Location – I am a proponent of delivering the presentation in the field, ideally in a hard-hit location. This demonstrates that your leadership is not sitting in the proverbial ivory tower; rather, it shows that leaders are willing to literally put themselves out there. That said, keep in mind that the location should be relatively easy to get to.
- Duration – Most people these days have shorter attention spans compared to days of yore, so you will want to keep the press conference relatively brief. In most cases, 10 minutes is sufficient to convey the desired message.
- Q&A – Sticking to a relatively short duration will allow the speaker an adequate amount of time to answer questions. This is critical because it helps convey a sense of empathy, and that the company is not trying to hide anything. Anticipate as many questions in advance as possible, and prepare and rehearse your answers.
The bottom line is that a press conference is the utility’s first and best opportunity to communicate its desired message, and they are an effective way to position your restoration efforts in the best possible light. Therefore, it is important to get it right!