Press conferences and releases

At a formal press conference during a scientific meeting, for example journalists are invited to hear about new developments in research. Such occasions must be accompanied by a "hot-line", open for at least 24 hours, so that journalists unable to attend can phone for information. Before a press conference, a press officer may ask for your help in preparing a "hand-out" a sheet giving key points and the background to the announcement. Written notes of this sort are invaluable, as they are also on other occasions when you are interviewed by an individual journalist. As well as your name and position, a briefing sheet can contain information such as names of organisms and a summary of experimental results. This will be particularly useful for the general reporter who knows virtually nothing about the subject for example, a local newspaper or radio journalist (who may even welcome a short list of key questions that he or she should ask you).

Press releases should also contain information about how to contact the key individual(s) involved who must be available to be contacted through telephone or e-mail at the time as indicated. They are usually embargoed, with a date and time before which the contents of the release must not be used. Journals such as Nature issue press releases every week, highlighting key papers in their next issue. Publication of an institute's annual report is another occasion when press releases are used to draw attention to work described in the report.

The importance of effective press releases can hardly be exaggerated. Releases which describe developments of timely interest to journalists, which are clearly written and which contain all of the formal ingredients outlined above, are used far more widely than those which are deficient in these respects. Moreover, a company or institute that issues only well-prepared releases, carrying genuine news, encourages journalists to pay immediate attention to future releases from the same place. Press releases are not usually published verbatim, but they should be written in a style such that they could be when time is extremely short, for example.

Adopted from EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions of Biotechnology
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