How to Run a Press Conference about Scientology this is actually my draft of a how-to for holding a press conference. If you see any omissions, mistakes, or whatever, let me know... HOW TO ORGANIZE A PRESS CONFEREN HOW TO ORGANIZE A PRESS CONFERENCE ABOUT SCIENTOLOGY (2/10, version 1.0) Introduction There are many ways to spread information about the cult of Scientology. Protesting has proven to be quite valuable. Having ex-members appear on radio or in print is effective. Web sites help disseminate evidence and experiences. Is there any use in holding a press conference? A press conference is an invitation for the media to hear and speak to experts on a particular topic live. It can also be for Lindsay Lohan to explain why she got arrested again, but we'll skip that aspect. The experts in our case will generally be ex-members. TV, newspaper, radio, and blogging reporters are invited to a particular place and time to record what the experts say, and to ask direct questions of the speakers. The goal is that the reporters will then put this information onto their news reports. This will multiply your ability to spread your information by utilizing the resources of these news outlets. But how do you know when it is appropriate to hold a press conference? Would a protest be better? Or placing an ad? Or just putting up a web site with the information? This is a tricky question. It is possible to hold a press conference and have no media show up. So when would it be feasible to use this tool? I have no exact guidelines. So I'll just tell you somewhat how reporters think. Let's take a TV reporter. Every day he (in this case) has to fill so many minutes of air time with video that will be of interest and value to the station's viewers. So he looks through police reports, legal cases, press releases, tips, and his own research to find things worthy of coverage. Let's say you sent his station a press release about a press conference for a week from now. This will be one of the many press releases he looks at. From this look, probably brief, he must decide if this is a real event, if it is "news," of interest to his audience, and whether these could be considered legitimate experts, or just some whack jobs seeking attention. Let's say he makes a few calls and decides you are legit. He pencils in your event to his calendar. That does not mean he will show up. It means at this time he thinks it's a real and worthwhile event to cover. But things could change. He might get a call saying you guys are phoneys. He might get a call saying the event is canceled (those sneaky Scientologists!). He might have some more urgent event, such as a sudden presidential visit, that would take him away from his planned schedule. So now back to the question; when is it appropriate to hold a press conference? When you have compelling speakers with compelling information at a compelling time that will appear newsworthy to reporters. That's my best answer. Be sure to record the press conference yourself as well, so you'll at least have that, and you can put it on youtube after. Our press conference from 1996 is still online. 1. Initial Decisions So if you've decided that you indeed have some speakers available at a good time, you need to answer a few more questions before going ahead. Is there a location that is available and affordable? Do we have enough resources to acquire a location, write and distribute a press release, handle security, get press kits ready, etc.? Is this the best use of our resources to get the word out? Does the day we picked appear to be a reasonably slow news day so the media will be available to cover us? If you decide that you have the resources, the speakers, and a good time, and that this is the best way to spread the word, go for it. From this point on, concerning any aspect of the event, it's good as you have the time to do "what if" scenarios. What if the weather is bad? What if one of the speakers doesn't make it? What if someone disrupts the event? If you've thought through these things ahead of time, you can have ready solutions rather than having to figure out what to do at the spur of the moment. 2. Organizing Perhaps your group is already organized in some way, having already done protests and such. This would be good. However you delegate responsibilities will already be handled. Otherwise, you may have to grapple with who is in charge, who writes the press release, etc. This could lead to "leaderfagging" where one person tries to be the boss, even though that person wasn't designated boss. This type of stuff should be dealt with right at the beginning as much as possible. Who will be speaking? What will be the topic? These two questions will create the foundation of your event. Probably both questions could be answered simultaneously by discussing with the potential speakers what they wished to speak about. Do the speakers have the background to be considered experts on that topic, either by training or experience? Another good way to build this foundation is to write out a draft press release. What will you tell reporters your topic is? Why would this be of interest to them? This will help you clarify what you are trying to convey to the public. Location - You need a room large enough for seating for about 30 people, plus room toward the back for a battery of camera crews who will set up their cameras on large tripods. 750 square feet is probably the bare minimum of what you need. There's no reason for anyone but the press to be invited, but in the past most press conferences dealing with Scientology have been open to interested parties as well, such as protesters or family members or such. Parking should be adequate for the TV vans to be near and set up. Most locations will charge a fee. Some will require insurance. I've even heard that some places want a movie permit! Check on all of this ahead of time for all costs, so you won't be surprised at the last minute. Ask if adjoining rooms will be used that day. If it's a wedding reception with a band or something like that, you might have noise issues. You want the place as quiet as possible. Setting up the room - I'll discuss room setup here because it might help you decide which location to choose. Basically you want the speakers on one side, reporters in the middle, and cameras on the opposite end. Have a podium so the media can put their microphones and recording devices there. Have your own mic there as well - don't rely on a video camera's built-in microphone for good sound. One thing to consider about the podium is, do you have a short speaker? Because that person will be hidden behind the microphones when they speak. Have a stand of some sort for that person to stand on if they wish so they are above the microphones. It might be good to put a poster behind the speakers as a backdrop. You could either put a title of your event, or a web site, like XENU.NET in big letters that would show up on any coverage. Barring that, maybe a poster in front of the podium. But it should be professional looking, not hand made or anything like that. Chairs for waiting speakers should be set to the side(s) of the podium if possible, otherwise the movements of the people behind the speaker could be a distraction in videos. The press should have access to the front rows of chairs. There should be open space in the back of the room or about 15-20 feet from the speakers for camera crews to set up. It would be great if you could have a side room for one-on-one interviews after the press conference. If not, think about where such interviews could take place. A table for the handouts should be somewhere that the press will easily notice. If you allow people unrelated to the press conference to attend, then you'll have to guess how many seats you need for that too. I would tell people that they are attending a press conference, so please understand that you are there as a favor, and behave accordingly. Date and Time - The best date to choose is some unique event that would pique the interest of the media on that day. If it can coincide with some other newsy event related to Scientology, like Hubbard's birthday, or at the start of a lawsuit, that would be just one more reason to cover the event. Often reporters ask "why are you doing this now?" So have an answer for that. If you have the press conference in the morning, this will give the TV crews time to get their video screened and edited for the afternoon news. I recommend 10am. I don't think it matters which day of the week. You'll need to coordinate with the speakers when they will all be available to speak. Look ahead for any big news events that would take away from your event, like a visit from the president or something. The media prioritize what they cover, so if it's an otherwise slow news day, you have a much better chance of having the media show up. 3. Getting the Word Out You'll need to find or create a list of media contacts. Many news outlets now use particular web pages for tips, news ideas, and such. You have to go to that web page to fill out a form. Others have a phone "tip line" where you can leave a message. Others use email. Shop around the local TV, radio, and newspaper web sites for how each handles press releases. Find a phone number for each if possible. But most definitely make a list of reporters and news outlets that have covered Scientology in the recent past, or that you already have contact with. These will probably be your best leads. The press release is your most powerful tool for informing the media about your press conference. It's what they expect. There is a formula for making one (you can google around to see samples). So with most of your initial contact, use the press release. A press release should be one page only. It should answer what you are announcing, when it will happen, where it will be held, who will be speaking, and why it's a newsworthy event. You need to put contact information. I would include the phone numbers and email addresses of two people if possible, but have one person be the media contact person, and one backup. Give the background of the speakers to show that they are experts or people worth listening to at least. I don't really know when the best time to send out the press release is. Different media work on different schedules. Some newspapers are weeklys, so you'll need to contact them at least 2 weeks out. TV news is pretty last-minute, so I'd think sending it out a week in advance might be good. After you've made your initial contact with the press release, it's good to call perhaps 2 days out. If you haven't heard from them, you might send the press release again 2 days out too. Make sure they got the press release, and ask if they have any questions about the press conference. This will show them that the event is still going on, and lets you know whether they read your press release or not. It also might tip you off whether anyone is falsely calling around claiming that the event has been canceled. 4. Security Scientologists in the past have infiltrated and disrupted events where people were speaking against Scientology. A presentation at a Baptist Church in Clearwater on Scientology had a large audience. Every few minutes a Scientologist would stand up in the audience and loudly try to ask a question. The pastor had at the beginning of the conference stated to please do not disrupt the event. In 1996 we held a press conference in Clearwater. Scientology's attorney Kendrick Moxon, vice president Brian Anderson, and 3 other Scientologists came to the conference. Fortunately, we had hired an off-duty police officer, so these gentlemen were not able to barge in and disrupt our event. We did allow two Scientologists who claimed to be reporters for Scientology's Freedom Magazine. They mostly behaved themselves. You could hire an off-duty cop, or just have some volunteers who know what they're doing act as security. Understand the rules of how to eject any troublemakers. Figure out how you plan to keep out people you don't want to attend; a list of people not to let in, list of people to let in, play it by ear, whatever. The press almost always has their credentials readily at hand. 5. Press Pack - The press pack should support the information from the speakers and be relevant to the theme of the event. Also, there should be plenty of resources provided for further information, such as references to books, web sites, or contact information. Making concise packets of current useful information for further news coverage is best. Don't overwhelm with information, just give well-organized resources that will reinforce what the speakers will say and encourage and aid in further coverage. 6. The Day of the Event - Organizers should arrive an hour before the event. Speakers should arrive 1/2 hour before. These are minimums. The sound system (unless it's already present), your recording equipment, any posters, and the press packets need to be set up. Water should be available for the speakers. You should open the doors for the media at LEAST 1/2 hour ahead of time so they can set up their equipment. Check on the media folk once in a while. See if they need water, have questions, or want to interview someone after the press conference. Show them where the cameras are to be set up. They will be putting their mics on the podium, looking for angles, and might even want to set up in a weird place. If so, it's up to you if you don't like where they are setting up to let them know where you want them. Generally, though, these are professionals who've been to dozens of press conferences, so they probably know more than you what's up. Start right on time if at all possible. The press has scheduled you into their day, but they have other places to go no doubt. 7. possible Scientology reactions - As soon as Scientology gets wind of your event, they will probably try to pressure your speakers to back down. Especially if they are ex-members. Be prepared for this. They will probably protest outside the event. They might try something sneaky like calling the media to say the event is canceled. The best way to deal with that is for one person to be the contact person for the media, so they'll know to contact that person for updates or queries. Also, contact any interested reporters a day or so ahead of time to check in and see if they have any last-minute questions or concerns. And IF Scientology does something to disrupt the event, make that a part of your evidence for why Scientology is bad. Scientology may send people in to try to disrupt the event, which is why you should have some sort of security presence at entrances. "Reporters" from Freedom Magazine might want to attend as part of the press. Consider ahead of time how you plan to handle such situations. * * * * ADVICE TO SPEAKERS - speak at a normal volume. Practice your speech ahead of time to gauge how long it takes. Having notes handy, even if you don't use them, is good backup if you lose your train of thought. Maintain a consistent distance from the microphones. Have water available in case your throat dries up. Wear business attire, nothing flashy. Don't wear anything with thin stripes, as the TV can make a moire pattern out of that. Check how you look, or ask somebody. Unfortunately, on TV your message can be weakened if you have spinach on your teeth, or whatever. Q & A - During the question and answer period, if you don't have a microcphone for the questioner, have the MC repeat the question before the answer. This way the question will also be recorded for those viewing the video. If someone's question is turning into a dissertation, it is the job of the MC to cut that off and go to an answer. The MC - The Master of Ceremonies is there for just a few reasons. He or she will introduce the event and each speaker. He will see that each speaker does not go way over their time limit. He will handle any disruptions. He will oversee the Q & A session. And he will give a wrapup statement and announce any events or whatever. A good MC will have some presentation background. A great MC will have a background that itself adds to the expertise of the panel. * * * * AFTERMATH Once the event is over, clean the place up, collect your things, and you're done! At this point things are out of your hands. The media will go mull over your information and present it to their audience however they choose. Or they might have too much other news so you get bumped. You never know. That's why your videographer is slaving away getting videos ready for youtube. Go get a bite to eat and relax, until it's time to check the news.