We let the facts do the talking.

When a press conference breaks the rules

Diego Maradona (left) and Tariq Al-Sharabi (right)

My last blog post was about how to organise a press conference to perfection, and interestingly enough, two weeks after I posted it, I got a call from my client saying: “We need to hold a press conference in less than a week!” I was like, here we go, who sneezed this time! But before I had the chance to ask what the press conference was for, the client said the magical words: “We’re unveiling Diego Maradona as our new head coach.”

You don’t expect to ever hear those words coming out of your client’s mouth when you’re in PR in the Middle East, but then again, this is Dubai and anything is possible.

So, after I managed to regain a normal heart beat, I started planning. I took a look at the post I wrote, and started going through the important points:

Choose a date that doesn’t clash with any other major events
First off, I had no choice as the date was set and it was on a weekend; not just any weekend, but the up and coming one! Second, this event was The Event, so rather than accommodating others, press conference organisers needed to make sure their date did not to clash with mine.

I had previously advised you to give journalists enough time to confirm their attendance, and I still do, but when you are about to give a reporter the chance to see Diego Maradona up close and personal then all you need to do is drop them an email the day before. Actually, in this case, I sent out the invitations at 2pm on a Thursday (2 days before the press conference). Usually, that would be the worst time to send out a media invitation, but when you have ‘Diego Maradona’ written on your invite then it doesn’t matter when you send it out. This was the first time in my 10 year career that I didn’t have to make a single follow up call. I was getting confirmations left and right – by phone, email, text message, you name it!

Choose a central location with easy access; attach a map with the invitation, and make arrangements for parking
Who you kidding? I could’ve organised the press conference in the middle of the desert and reporters would’ve still found their way there. In this case the venue had to be appropriate for the client and not the other way around.

Check the availability of excellent AV, internet and communication systems
This is absolutely necessary for this sort of press conference. I was getting RSVPs from all over the world, so I had to make sure there were enough electricity outlets and AV switch boards to feed tens of video cameras and hundreds of laptops. The most hectic part was setting up the instant translation booths in three different languages for over 100 reporters, and of course, El Diego himself.

Press Kits
Usually, when preparing for a press conference the press kit takes up a lot of time. You need the press releases, biographies, fact sheets, background material, images, etc. Half way into writing the press release I realised, who am I kidding, reporters aren’t going to publish this! They’ll probably use one or two paragraphs at most, the rest of their articles will be filled with the great material that Mr. Maradona himself never seems to runout of. So, we ended up drafting a short, straight-to-the-point press release and a fact sheet about Al Wasl (the club hiring Maradona). I mean, if a journalist asked me for the speaker’s biography I would’ve probably kicked him out of the hall!

I know I broke most of the rules that I had set for organising a successful press conference, but sometimes the very presence of one human being (some say he comes from another planet) can change everything. But what is important from my previous list is that it is essential, no matter what the situation, to have a checklist. Of course in my case, the checklist kept getting longer and longer every hour, but nonetheless, it was a piece of paper that I had with me every minute of every day, even when I was sleeping.

Treat all journalists equally and give them your undivided attention
I even went on to say, ‘there are a million places they’d rather be, so make it worth their while to attend.’ Well, I think the only place they’d rather be is on a deserted island with Kim Kardashian (or for the ladies, Brad Pitt)! I have never been so popular in my life. Journalists were all nice and friendly in hopes of getting a one-on-one with the football player of the century. Umm, sorry, that’s not going to happen!

Keep journalist entertained and updated while they wait
Most press conferences in our part of the world never start on time and that’s why you have to keep the media entertained and updated. Usually, when there’s a delay in starting a press conference, journalists start to get fussy and some even start to leave. When the reason for the delay is that the best footballer on earth hasn’t shown up yet, you know the journalists will be sitting tight, and will even get more anxious and excited as they wait. We had 130 journalists all nicely sat in their seats for over an hour before the press conference started!

So, while there are basic rules that need to be followed to ensure a successful press conference, and 99% of the time they do apply and are necessary, sometimes the announcement itself changes everything. When that happens, you have to adapt (and in my case enjoy the once in a lifetime opportunity).

Any experiences you would like to share, where the rules don’t all apply?