What do you prefer, talking to someone face-to-face or interacting over a conference call? According to research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and sponsored by the Convention Industry Council, more people are favoring face-to-face meetings. In 2012, there were nearly 225 million participants at industry conferences – and that means more opportunities for clients to interact with target audiences – including media representatives, right?
When I started in PR, conferences were a guaranteed way to be able to rub elbows with journalists. One-on-one meetings, networking events and parties facilitated face-to-face interaction with key media representatives. But over the past few years, I’ve experienced a shift.
Last year CooperKatz helped produce an annual conference for one of our clients. The event draws more than 2,000 attendees and is a key media driver in its industry. This year we suggested a special “media section” directly in the presentation hall to ensure journalists had enough room to operate. This was not the separate press room you see at most events, but rather an assigned section for journalists to cover the presentations and panels as they happened.
The idea worked incredibly well. Media representatives were able to set up laptops, file stories faster and stay put between sessions, increasing their productivity. We received plenty of positive feedback, and most importantly, the number of news hits coming out of the conference reached an all-time high.
The difficult aspect of this arrangement, however, is it has the potential to remove the media from one-on-one interaction with attendees. When I attended a separate conference later in the year in which my client was a panelist, I was struck by how distant journalists were from those speaking and watching. In this case, cordoning off the media affected our ability to connect face-to-face, which can be the one of the main strategic reasons to attend conferences with our clients.
We have the ability to connect at any moment in nearly any place with anyone via computers and smartphones. But there is something special about the spark that takes place during face-to-face interactions. While I hope that conferences continue to be a place that we can connect with journalists in person, my recent attendance has me worried about a gulf that may be forming between media and attendees.
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