The camera lights are flashing, hands are shooting up in every direction and hundreds of reporters are screaming for your attention. In other words: the pressure is on. This is the point of view of a brand, organization or company spokesperson. The relationship the press typically has with this spokesperson is to “ask the tough questions.” This plays out in a press conference where journalists assemble to get a prominent figure to explain a situation or to hear an important announcement.
But how productive is a press conference? Does it really move anything forward? More likely than not, it’s just a few – prepared – talking points, delivered in a confrontational atmosphere. A high stress environment for all parties involved doesn’t solve problems or build a dialogue. It just adds more questions, confusion and frustration.
What helps make progress? A Reverse Press Conference. It’s where a brand or person invites the press to come and discuss a hot topic, only this time though, the reporters are answering questions as well.
Ronald Reagan once said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Well, we were working off a conference table, but four of Philadelphia’s best bloggers sat down with the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) and ChatterBlast (CBM) to discuss UberX. It was a chat held between top executives at the PPA and Jon Geeting (Plan Philly), Juliana Reyes (Technically Philly), Ryan Briggs (Freelance Blogger) and Geoff Thompson (This Old City).
Before we get ahead of ourselves, how did this happen? The PPA and CBM identified key players in Philadelphia’s blogosphere that would be able to articulate not only their thoughts, but also the thoughts of their readership about UberX to these key players at the PPA. CBM then approached the bloggers about the invitation to meet with the PPA and locked in a date. Prior to the bloggers arriving, Martin O’Rourke, the PPA’s Public Relations Officer, explained to the directors that, “This was an opportunity to gain perspectives and insights surrounding the issue.”
Once everyone was seated at the table, each person took a turn to introduce themselves and the role that they were to play in the talk. Matthew Ray, Co-founder and Creative Director at CBM, explained what a Reverse Press Conference is and the goal of it: an open dialogue about an issue important to the city.
He informed the group that we were there to have a bit of a heart-to-heart. Ask questions, air some grievances and concerns, but most importantly, to listen and understand where each person was coming from with their thoughts and opinions.
“We’re so appreciative that you agreed to be a part of this experiment, the first Reverse Press Conference,” said Ray. The best part? No one had a microphone shoved under his nose.
The conversation began with the PPA executives asking a few questions, but quickly the discussion flowed and developed naturally. An important factor that allowed this to be a peaceful meeting was everyone understood to ask for clarification or to provide some if an opinion or explanation given just didn’t seem right. After spending an hour and a half conversing, questioning and listening, the Reverse Press Conference came to an end. All parties left enlightened with a new understanding of each other.
We know this idea works. It showed in the work that followed. Julianna Reyes shared her recap on the meeting, Geoff Kees Thompson gave his perspective on ridesharing, and Jon Geeting explained his take on the taxi medallion system.
Bill Wasser with the PPA said, “It’s very enlightening for us to ask the press questions instead of vice versa. It allows us to get a clear-cut perspective.”
Now that we have a clearer idea of what the community needs from the PPA, we will be able to develop a plan to build a stronger relationship with the public.
The Reverse Press Conference is a revolutionary idea that conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.
What brand or organization would you like to see at a Reverse Press Conference? Sound off in the comments!