A Briefing on Briefings

By David Burda  |  December 4, 2015

2 people presenting at a conference

Over my 32-year career as a healthcare business journalist, I’ve attended hundreds of healthcare trade shows and even more press briefings at those shows.

I’ve attended briefings as a reporter. I’ve attended as the host or sponsor. I’ve attended as a panel moderator. I’ve attended as a content marketer. And I’ve attended by mistake, thinking I was in the right room when I was supposed to be on another floor.

What separates the memorable press briefings from the forgotten ones is content. What I’m looking for regardless of my hat is original, authentic, credible and useful content that I can’t wait to share with my audience. I’m guessing that anyone who attends a press briefing at a trade show wants the same thing.

So how does a brand host a press briefing at a trade show and create content that will draw attendees and hold their interest? Here are a few suggestions based on my experience over the years.

The company’s president or CEO should open the briefing and welcome attendees to the event. If the president or CEO can’t be there, why should we? If he or she is there, it tells us they think it’s important and have made a personal commitment of their valuable time to attend.

That said, the president or CEO quickly should turn the event over to the emcee, who preferably is a subject matter expert at the company on the topic of the press briefing. We know that the president or CEO is busy running the company and may not be up to speed on the every little detail or happening in his or her particular industry. Get them away from the podium before they say, “I don’t know anything about that,” and hand the mic over to the expert whose job security depends on knowing everything.

The presenters should be what we like to call “real people,” meaning executives or clients in the field dealing with the topic of the press briefing. The presenters should never be other company SMEs — real people coping with real challenges by attempting real solutions add the authenticity that a successful press briefing requires. The emcee can moderate but never present.

An open — rather than staged — question and answer period should follow the presentations. The emcee can start with a prepared question until the audience warms up, but questions from attendees should drive this event segment. An open question and answer session gives the press briefing credibility. Just knowing we’re free to ask anything on our minds elevates the entire experience for all attendees. It also creates the opportunity to generate content beyond the original scope of the briefing.

As for press briefing logistics, I would recommend the following steps. You’d be surprised how many brand press briefings fail at these basics.

  • Have an agenda for the briefing that includes:
    • The proper names, titles, affiliations and contact information for all speakers.
    • The primary Twitter hashtag for the trade show and a distinct Twitter hashtag for the press briefing.
  • Have Wi-Fi to enable attendees to share what’s being said in real time with their audiences.
  • Have access to plenty of outlets so attendees can keep their smartphones and laptops charged and running—and sharing content.
  • Start and end on time, and go no more than 90 minutes. Seeing a two-hour agenda on an invitation to a press briefing will scare off most. Forty-five minutes to one hour is optimal. Everyone has somewhere else to be at a trade show.
  • Schedule a press briefing on the first or second day of the trade show. Holding it on the last day will kill attendance.
  • Serve time-appropriate food and/or refreshments: breakfast early, lunch midday and appetizers for late afternoon. Everyone has dinner plans, even if that means room service after a long day. Don’t have a dinner-time press briefing unless you want a few tired, hungry people to attend.
  • Last and perhaps most important, be courteous and treat everyone as a guest. Don’t incent a reporter to write a negative review or an attendee to pan the briefing to peers.

I went to a number of press briefings recently at the RSNA’s big healthcare trade show in Chicago. RSNA is the Radiological Society of North America, and its Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting is one of the largest, if not the largest, trade show in the healthcare industry.

At one RSNA briefing I attended, the president of the brand holding the event opened by saying, “We’re going to speed through this because some important people here need to leave early. But we have the room until 9 a.m., so you can stick around if you want. Have more to eat.”

Thanks pal!

Actually, I do thank him. He was honest. His comment was authentic. And it inspired me to write this post and include the story as an anecdote to illustrate a point. I will be at his briefing next year.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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