Public Relations: Comment - Event PR can help to put issues in context for media coverage

Event PR has many definitions. Some define it as event management; others consider it to be nothing more than a journalist party tacked onto an industry conference or forum. When a trusted partnership exists between the event organiser and their agency, a solid PR approach can help turn an event into the "story of the week."

When we were hired a few months ago to support communications for the XV International Aids Conference in Bangkok, we knew this was not going to be just another event. With speakers and delegates ranging from Aids activists, pharmaceutical company CEOs, HIV-positive teenagers, politicians, Hollywood actors, prominent scientists and world leaders, the challenge was to deliver sustainable messages that always led back to the conference.

Our client, the International Aids Society, needed to anticipate and deal with politically and emotionally-charged issues, prepare key spokespeople for controversial questions, break the media registration and delegate attendance record and put Aids back on the world agenda. Essentially, this amounted to more than event management - but a requirement for every PR tool and strategy at our disposal to help them make world headlines.

To bring the issues of an event to the surface in the news media requires an intensive fight for share of voice among your target journalists. They need to feel compelled to put your event on their calendar so they don't miss the chance to cover the angles coming out of it. Putting things into perspective and context also helps shape the agenda for media coverage.

If the event organiser is your client, you also need to find the tricky balance of emphasising the most interesting angles while staying as neutral as possible to avoid appearing on the side of a particular sponsor or constituency.

Continuing to monitor ongoing media coverage leading up to the event will also help you shape the type of angles you want to focus on with your client during the actual event. Knowing what is hitting the buttons can help you position emerging news in a more targeted way so that information naturally folds into the ongoing coverage.

A few other traditional tactics must be included in your approach. For regional or global media outreach, consider how to tailor your messages and key angles to those audiences, with relevant facts, trends and spokespeople.

Let photojournalists and camera crews know when and where the best photo opportunities will happen during the event. No matter what the subject of your event, always prepare statements in advance to respond to negative developments or media coverage - and for as many as you can anticipate.

Most importantly, don't think of the assignment as an event. Think about how you're going to get under the skin of the most compelling, news-making issues and raise those to the surface. Don't let go until you're the talk of the town.

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