The reasons for doing e-conferences seem obvious: because no travel is necessary, more reporters can ’attend,’ and e-conferences add a visual element not possible over the phone, allowing for product demonstrations and the like.
The reasons for doing e-conferences seem obvious: because no travel
is necessary, more reporters can ’attend,’ and e-conferences add a
visual element not possible over the phone, allowing for product
demonstrations and the like.
As e-conferencing has grown in popularity, vendors have found ways to
increase interactivity between clients and the media. ’You cannot be
successful on the Internet if you treat it like a television program
that you sit back and watch,’ says Sally Jewett, president of On the
Scene Productions in Los Angeles.
One way to achieve interaction is allowing reporters to ask questions
during the conference. While this capability has been around since the
introduction of the e-conference, Patrick Pharris, president and CEO of
Electronic Media Communications in Irvine, CA, says that it’s just now
gaining prominence. He believes that most e-conferences should include a
Q&A session, even when a client is announcing bad news. ’I can’t think
of a reason why you would want to limit the interactivity of the
Internet,’ says Pharris.
’It’s a good thing to do for press relationship purposes,’ adds Jeff
Schulz, VP of marketing and corporate communications for New York-based
MediaOnDemand.com. ’It signifies that the company holding the conference
is interested in two-way communication, not just broadcasting an
There are several ways companies can hold Q&A sessions, with text
methods the most popular. Those include e-mailing questions to the
conference moderator, chat boxes that allow people to type in questions
to the moderator (and in some cases, other conference participants) and
online forms where participants type in a question. In general, chat
room technologies rely on standard plug-ins that come with the browser,
so if a person can see and hear the e-conference, the
question-and-answer session won’t pose any other challenges.
Audio options include having participants dial into a toll-free number
to pose questions, which everyone can hear, or asking questions through
microphones on their computers. For those looking to interact through
audio and video, another option in the future may be two-way
Pharris says that the capability to stream two audio and two video
windows simultaneously does not currently exist, although he believes
that it will be possible in the future.
According to Linda Zimmer, e-conferencing and e-business specialist for
On the Scene Productions, companies should stick with text-based
capabilities, because it’s something that everyone will be able to use.
However, she predicts that eventually all computers will come off the
shelf with audio and video capabilities, including video cameras.
Regardless of which method companies choose, Pharris says that there
should always be a place to contact conference moderators via
Nathan Bieck, director of corporate communications for E-Conference in
Boulder, CO, cautions that companies should ’use what works today, not
what’s available today.’ For instance, when E-Conference client MapInfo
was introducing a product to a new vertical market, the company
insisted, against E-Conference’s advice, on using IP streaming instead
of the telephone to provide the audio portion of the conference. ’People
had trouble hearing, and it shook the leader of the show,’ says
Experts recommend having a high-ranking PR pro screen the questions to
ensure that only pertinent ones get through. While companies can have
any length Q&A session they choose, Marc Newman, associate VP of special
services for Medialink, says it should generally last between 20 and 30
minutes. As for costs, most vendors say that adding a Q&A capability is
minimal. For instance, Medialink estimates that its question-manager
feature adds 5% to the project’s total cost.
This can vary, however, according to the technology used. For example,
for a December 9 e-conference on intrusion-detection systems, Pete
Cafarchio, technical program manager for software security firm
ICSA.net, researched various Q&A options. He says that using a
conference-call bridge would have been ’ridiculously expensive’ and
impractical for a group larger than 60 to 80 participants. Instead, he
chose to go with streaming audio, and he was very happy with the
results. The conference drew 300 attendees, included a 20-minute Q&A and
continued to receive hits for months afterward.
Giving reporters the opportunity to ask questions isn’t the only way to
make e-conferences interactive. On the Scene and E-Conference both tout
the value of polling to get feedback from participants, which can
instantaneously be tabulated into a pie chart or graph. Marc Church, VP
of business development for E-Conference, says that conference
moderators can use polling to ask reporters how familiar they are with
the company or product being discussed in order to determine how much
background information they need. Since the technology is fairly new,
Zimmer estimates that On the Scene has only done polling during about
20% of the conferences it has worked on.
In addition, E-Conference offers a technology called Placeware, which
allows for online presentations for smaller groups and includes voting
and polling. It also has whiteboards and a mood chart so that
participants can express confusion or let it be known when they think
the presentation is moving too fast.
As companies search for more ways to interact with the reporters who
cover them, these options may be just the beginning.
DOS AND DON’TS
1 Have a few questions prepared in the event that participants are
initially hesitant to pose any.
2 Have a senior PR pro screen the questions to determine whether they
3 Leave enough time to properly answer the majority of questions without
having to rush through them.
4 Make sure that you give people an e-mail address to direct
5 Use this as an opportunity to not only answer reporters’ questions,
but to gain feedback from them, when appropriate, through polling.
1 Get too fancy. For example, not everyone has a microphone, so IP
streaming would prevent a lot of people from being able to ask
2 Decide not to do a Q&A session when the news being released is
Answering tough questions could aid in restoring a company’s
3 Forget to archive the Q&A session, along with the rest of the