PR TECHNIQUE: E-CONFERENCING - Taking your press conference online

When Victoria’s Secret Web-cast its lingerie-clad supermodels earlier this year, it gained mixed results. The 1.5 million viewers that logged on were presented with fuzzy images, random delays and sudden jumps. And an estimated 75,000 others weren’t even able to log on. But hey, this was girls in bras and panties.

When Victoria’s Secret Web-cast its lingerie-clad supermodels earlier this year, it gained mixed results. The 1.5 million viewers that logged on were presented with fuzzy images, random delays and sudden jumps. And an estimated 75,000 others weren’t even able to log on. But hey, this was girls in bras and panties.

When Victoria’s Secret Web-cast its lingerie-clad supermodels

earlier this year, it gained mixed results. The 1.5 million viewers that

logged on were presented with fuzzy images, random delays and sudden

jumps. And an estimated 75,000 others weren’t even able to log on. But

hey, this was girls in bras and panties.



It’s doubtful that consumers or the press would be so forgiving if they

logged onto a CEO business discussion and experienced the same

difficulties.



So what is an e-conference? An e-conference is an electronic press

conference (or press conference on the Web). Several days before it

occurs, a media advisory goes out, alerting the press as to the time the

conference will be held, what the URL is and what technology they’ll

need to view it.



Journalists can log on and watch the conference from their computers (if

there’s a video component) or listen, if there’s an audio-only

option.



There’s not much difference between an e-conference and a real-world

press conference, except that you don’t have to be on location to

participate.



The key to developing a successful e-conference is planning. The first

step is determining whether or not there is a strong news hook worthy of

an e-conference.



’News is very fragile, and the more we use high-end technology to tell

stories that aren’t news, the less interested the media will be,’ says

Scott MacIver, VP, interactive communications for Weber PR in Cambridge,

MA.



Once you decide to go ahead with the e-conference, allow for adequate

planning. ’The more planning you do up-front, the more likely the chat

will happen without challenges down the line,’ says Patrick Pharris,

president and CEO of Electronic Media Communications (EMC) in Irvine,

CA.



While e-conferences have been developed overnight in urgent situations,

most vendors and agencies say they prefer a planning period of at least

two weeks - ideally a month.



For a journalist to log onto the e-conference, they need a modem (in

other words, access to the Web), a soundcard and a multimedia

player.



The techies that develop e-conferences usually allow participants to

select either 28.8K or 56K modem speed.



Multimedia players such as RealPlayer can be downloaded for free off the

Web. Video clips don’t necessarily jeopardize a conference, since most

computers these days come with decent modems and soundcards, and

multimedia players are easy to download.



Time, as well as how many components are involved, can also impact the

cost of developing the e-conference. Audio-only e-conferences can start

at dollars 4,000, while audio and video can start at dollars 7,000 and

go up to dollars 120,000.



Third-party vendors such as Medialink in New York or EMC should handle

the technical aspects of the e-conference. Jason Teitler, VP and

director of interactive marketing for Porter Novelli in New York,

recommends that agencies see samples of vendor work and bring in their

own IT personnel to investigate vendor technology.



As the third-party vendor works out the technical aspects of the event,

agencies need to send out a media alert.



When possible, make the location of the e-conference part of the

story.



For example, Pharris suggests that if a company is unveiling a new

global phone service, they could hold the e-conference from a desert

where the service is now available.



One advantage of e-conferences is that they can provide an all-inclusive

package for journalists, enabling them to post a story immediately

following the conference. In order to keep their attention, the

e-conference should provide as interactive an experience as

possible.



As well as audio or audio and video, online press conferences can

include images to download, an area for participants to request

transcripts, advertising and links to other web sites. Companies may

also include footage of relevant speeches given by other professionals

not speaking at the conference.



’Make sure both your live video, B-roll or any pre-produced video is

produced with an eye to the Web,’ says Greg Jones, VP of marketing

communications for Medialink. ’There shouldn’t be too many quick cuts or

long shots that could come out scrambled in a thumbnail video.’



As with a real-world conference, e-conferences can also allow

participants to ask potentially awkward questions. Teitler recommends

using a one-way bulletin board to prevent this scenario.



If you’re presenting sensitive information, secure the site before you

go online and provide the audience with passwords. Make sure you have

enough bandwidth - companies can pay to have additional bandwidth on

standby if they’re expecting a large number of participants. And test

the pages before going live.



E-conferences also allow companies to obtain information about who

logged on to the broadcast and can even include a quick questionnaire

for participants to fill out.



And an e-conference can also be archived so that those unable to view

the broadcast can access the information at their convenience. While

archiving an entire speech is ideal, it may not be in the company’s best

interest to do so. However, Teitler recommends including video files

that are no more than 60 seconds long so reporters will click on the

most interesting highlights.



E-CONFERENCE DOS AND DON’TS



DO



1. Make sure the news is worthy of an e-conference.



2. Allow for adequate planning time. It is more likely that things will

go wrong without proper planning.



3. Make sure the web site is secure if you’re discussing sensitive

information.



4. Archive the conference so media that were unable to participate at

the scheduled time can view it.



5. Monitor its effectiveness by determining how many people

participated, what photos were downloaded, and what stories appeared

online.



DON’T



1. Develop an e-conference without a third-party vendor. Even the most

tech-savvy agencies may have trouble keeping up with the changing

technology.



2. Let the vendor run away with creative licensing.



3. Forget to include a number for technical support for people having

difficulties logging on or downloading audio players.



4. Include video images with sudden cuts or shadows.



5. Forget to hone the media list first, and alert journalists in

advance.



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