They say most successful operations include planning, planning and more planning and for those of you who have been given the unenviable task of planning a major conference at UniSA, you will know there seems to be a never-ending pile of details to worry about.
So while accommodation, venue booking, keynote speakers and soliciting papers may be the big issues, odds on someone will say 'What about publicity? We need media coverage.'
This document is a quick guide to some of the important issues and details that will help you win media coverage and at the same time allow your conference to run smoothly.
- Why do you want publicity and how much do you want it?
- Early planning saves time and confusion
- An open and shut case – you choose
- Branding UniSA
- Make contact
- Checklist for successful conference media planning
- Contact information.
Before going headlong into a media strategy for the conference, ask yourself some important questions.
Why do we want publicity, how much do we want, and when do we want it.
If you want publicity to encourage people to attend the conference you should be planning for a media release or alternatively a flyer to go out several weeks before the event. A news story is probably not the best or only option here – often a letter sent out to interested groups or a flyer will elicit a better response in terms of registrations.
If however, it is the issues that will be raised at the conference that are significant and UniSA can benefit from being a leader in research in the field, then the media management issues are different. Sometimes people want to attract media merely because it reflects well on UniSA and is impressive for international delegates. Here it is important to understand that the Australian media doesn’t always have the same approach to research that the media does in some other countries and that Adelaide has very few media outlets on the ground compared to cities of similar sizes overseas. Some international visitors will expect a higher level of interest than is possible here.
It is also important to understand that if you are out to get media interest you must be prepared to field the interest you excite.
It is damaging for UniSA’s long term relationships with the media to draw attention to an event and then find yourself far too busy with the nitty gritty of the conference to be available for journalists and media interviews.
Once you have decided that media coverage is important to your conference there are things you can do early on in your planning cycle to make everything run more smoothly later.
If you are booking an external venue ask for an extra private room or quiet foyer so that there is space for interviews to be conducted away from the hustle and bustle of the main session room. This room should have a phone connected for telephone interviews.
When you are writing to conference presenters or requesting conference papers add a box with the following questions:
Conference media checklist
I am happy to be interviewed by the media about my research and my conference paper.
I am willing to give interviews to journalists from…
During the conference I will be contactable on ………………………………………
(Please provide contact telephone number)
In the lead up to the conference I can be contacted at ………………………………….
(please provide email, fax or other address)
Please enclose an abstract or summary of your conference paper so that a media release can be prepared if required. Please note - No media statements will be issued without your prior approval.
While not completely foolproof, this at least allows for some preparation. The completed forms with abstracts will be invaluable when you approach UniSA’s News team for assistance with publicity for the conference. If completed properly by delegates, the checklist has everything required should the research be judged interesting and likely to attract media interest.
CLOSED Some conferences deal with an array of information that can be misinterpreted if expert one-to-one analysis is not provided. For example if the conference is likely to deal with animal testing as part of the presentations, or if papers to be presented are likely to discuss issues that are already being reported sensationally in the media, then you may want to run a closed conference.
A closed conference requires more hands-on media management. It is likely you may still want some research to receive coverage. In this instance media releases can be prepared beforehand and issued during the conference and appointments can be arranged for interviews with key researchers. In this instance the pre-planning discussed above is essential.
OPEN Many conferences do provide great opportunities to get strong and widespread coverage for important research. For journalists, a well-managed conference can be a great opportunity to break new stories. In your planning you should discuss the closed or open options with the convenors. If you are planning an open conference be prepared to invite journalists to the conference and to pay for their lunch or a place at the conference dinner (the News team can usually advise on which journalists may be appropriate to invite from mainstream media and you may know writers in your field that you would like to invite). Remember one or two dinners may cost you $100 - $200, but a story in the paper is worth much more – the cost of a reasonable sized advertisement is around $1000, with the added credibility of an article you certainly get good value for money by being hospitable to journalists at your conference. Also be prepared to give them some guidance on the most interesting research that will be presented (this is where the checklist provided is really useful and where the News team can advise on what might be most newsworthy).
Sometimes conferences attract enormous attention and get lots of coverage but UniSA wins little of the limelight. There is not much point in going to the organisational effort to get the media interested if UniSA does not get a mention. If we are running the show, brand our efforts – download and use the logo, useUniSA book banners and signage from the Communications and Marketing Unit or through your divisional Marketing and Alumni Officer; use our stationery for conference correspondence; plan to have UniSA pens or other corporate merchandise (staff access only) as part of the conference kit.
The News team will take special note of UniSA research and try to give that the best promotion through the media, but branding at the event helps to remind everyone that we are a professional outfit putting on an invaluable conference.
A cardinal sin of conferences is not having someone who can speak about the conference. Decide early on who the spokesperson for the conference will be and make sure they have the time and space to do that job properly. If a key academic takes on that role they can’t be expected to also organise brochures and other bits and pieces, so divide the tasks and see the spokesperson’s role as an important function.
Make sure you are contactable even after hours. There should be two key contact numbers for the conference (preferably mobile numbers). One should be the conference spokesperson and one should be for the conference secretary. When sessions are on the conference secretary should take media enquiries and note down the number, name, and outlet a journalist represents and what they are interested in, or who they want to interview. Otherwise the conference spokesperson should be prepared to take calls and do interviews on general issues related to the conference. The News team can also take media enquiries but must have a reliable point of telephone contact at the conference so that they can pass on media requests in a timely fashion.
- Make provision for media interviews at the conference venue – book some quiet space
- Make sure there is a reliable contact number for media enquiries
- Be clear about who will be the spokesperson and give that person time to fulfil that role
- Publicise only the research or papers that have been written by people who are willing to engage with the media
- Be sure to ask presenters if they would like media coverage for their research
- Decide if you want to invite journalists to sit in on the conference
- Make sure you badge and brand UniSA well and with quality signage, souvenirs or conference brochures
- Remember the Communications and Marketing Unit can offer advice and support on a range of conference media issues.
CMK staff are trained to help with advice in the lead up to a conference – we can provide referrals to desktop publishers and designers, photographers, web builders and advice on advertising, merchandise or other conference needs. CMK’s News team can help with the preparation and distribution of media releases and advise on how to manage publicity for your conference.
For further information, contact
- News Manager Michčle Nardelli