Press conferences have had a good run.
From calming public nerves in a crisis (or not if you are Malaysian Airlines) to launching campaigns and announcing mundane company results, press conferences have been at the heart of the PR’s repartee for decades.
But while the media’s attention is focused on Scotland, the Lobbying Act came into force for the rest of the UK today. It seeks to regulate political campaigning – by brands, charities and local community groups – until the next General Election.
And there is one part of the Act which encapsulates just how badly this legislation has been drafted and how lacking in any media sense the regulators have.
Conducting media interviews is not a regulated campaign activity – regulated campaign activities are listed on page 4 of our guidance Overview of regulated non-party campaigning.
However, this guidance states that press conferences are regulated activity.
Given one of the traditional purposes of a press conference is to conduct media interviews, the PRCA went on to ask what is the difference between doing that at a press conference (regulated) and doing this from a radio studio or outside broadcast (not regulated)?
The Electoral Commission replied:
Schedule 8A of the Act sets out the activities which constitute a regulated campaign activity. Paragraph 1(3) refers to ‘press conferences, or other media events’. Paragraph 2 excludes expenses incurred in respect of any publication (other than an advertisement) in a newspaper or periodical or a television broadcast.
Press conferences are specifically captured by the legislation, therefore, as they are organised by the campaigner specifically to promote their views. However, other types of activity, such as responding to a media request to comment on an issue on a particular television programme or as part of a news article, we interpret as falling under the exclusions in paragraph 2 of Schedule 8A.
So that’s that then? Don’t organise a press conference – just happen to be in the same place as the media are.
But while the Lobbying Act may only apply for the next six months, perhaps this will also force PRs to think again about the very nature of a press conference – is it really the most effective means of spreading a message?
For a start, wouldn’t a content conference be a more appropriate description?
After all, press conferences have never really just been for the press…