By Melissa Lewelling
The Hoffman Agency, San Jose
Working at an agency with clients located all over the world, on-site conference support is not a regular part of my job description.
However, I was recently asked to provide on-site support for a client’s international conference located just a few blocks from our agency headquarters in San Jose, Calif. – and to call it a learning experience would be an understatement.
Navigating the overwhelming nature of in-person media relations in a chaotic environment was a sink or swim situation, and required figuring some things out along the way.
Of course, I had previous experience supporting PR remotely at various conferences and had been part of this event from the start — participating in sourcing sessions that led to storytelling pitches, researching relevant journalists and scheduling pre-conference interviews to drive awareness and registration. But none of it could have prepared me for the world of on-site public relations.
To successfully provide on-site support for a conference, a PR professional needs to be able to think on his or her feet, act quickly and come up with solutions to unforeseen problems. Through this two-day journey, I learned a lot about what it takes to support a successful event. Here are my best tips:
1. Make sure there is coffee in the press room.
Journalists love their coffee — and so will you after running across the venue a few times. Having a coffee cart in a nearby room is not quite the same when it means having to leave an unguarded laptop and personal effects behind. If your media room happens to be far from the conference’s epicenter, as ours was, tired journalists on deadline will complain about the distance between them and their coffee.
2. Arrive early and don’t assume everything will be set up when you get there.
Just because the conference is held at a beautiful hotel or convention center doesn’t mean that every staff member has been prepped on what should go where and when – and could give media and attendees the impression that your team is unorganized and ill-prepared. To prevent this, be sure to arrive early every morning so you can personally guarantee everything is properly set up and ready to go.
View the media room as if you were a journalist on deadline: what would you need? Enough table space and nearby electrical outlets might not be the first things on your mind, but it will be to writers trying to capture their thoughts before heading out — especially for those who choose to camp out for an afternoon to write their story.
Remember that courtesy and hospitality extend to every aspect of an event, including the facility, so don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves to do a bit of leg work yourself, and always ask for what you need. The worst they can do is say is no, but remember you are there for a reason, as the media expert, so work with confidence.
3. Be prepared.
While this also lines up with the previous lesson, it includes so much more. Supporting media relations on-site is more than just the actual job — it involves various logistical planning and forethought that may not seem obvious at first. For example, having your cellphone charger on hand can mean the difference between a missed on-site interview or client email and a smoothly coordinated event.
Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Bring anything you might possibly need, including business cards with your cellphone number, directional signs to the media room and a list of cellphone numbers for all media and spokespeople with scheduled on-sites. Also, for those ladies wearing heels all day, don’t forget to pack a pair of flats – trust me, they’ll be a lifesaver.
4. Be mindful of your surroundings.
While you are supporting media relations for an event, you represent that brand, and every word/action is a reflection on your client — so be mindful of what you say and how you respond to stressful situations, because people are watching.