Letter from Prague Dealing with the Czech press and PR jungle

26-04-2014 02:01 | Chris Johnstone

All in all, the Czech Republic is pretty well journalist trained right now. Press conferences usually begin at a civilized time, the optimum being around 10 o’clock; you don’t really have to listen to what the people say if you don’t want to because they usually give out a summary bit of paper before or at the end, and questions are optional.

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Photo: Vojtěch JahodaPhoto: Vojtěch Jahoda Actually, Czech journalists seem to be a bit of a shy breed when it comes to questions but not when it comes to any buffet being offered as an enticement to come along. There is usually an inverse relationship between the rush to ask questions to the panel and the anticipated amount of time mentally reserved for the buffet.

Of course, there is still the old stonewall type of public relations. If you are ever lucky enough to get someone during your searches they say ‘send an e-mail,’ and then, if you are even more fortunate, they say ‘no comment.’ These stonewall types are usually species liking the semi-shade and public events are not usually part of the repertoire for them.

There are of course some in between approaches. For example, in the not too distant past a Czech ministry, which will remain nameless, invited me to a press conference. I replied by the stated deadline that I would be coming along and then they asked me to prove I was a journalist. ‘You just sent me an invitation,’ I protested to no avail. An intervention from my editors was required to prove who I was and not someone off the street seeking some temporary ministry chair space, warmth, or a free sandwich, if one might be on offer. At one time this ministry regularly seem to regularly lose my e-mailed accreditations, I think they were trying to give me a message.

Then, there are some press events though poor preparation, or bad luck, just seem to be jinxed. There was another ministry conference on energy security that perhaps wanted to rub in the message about fuel shortages by failing to put the heating on so participants shivered through the proceedings.

At another event, one electricity company filed the underwhelmed press into a dark conference room for its slideshow but no one could find the light switch and a confused grope for seats was the result.

A bit of advice here to PR companies: conference type sessions should be planned precisely, the schedule should be kept to, and should be preferably interspersed with sufficient breaks. The breaks usually serve a multiple function. For the keen journalists they are an opportunity to grab a participant and get them to elaborate on an unclear point. They of course also serve as non-disruptive toilet breaks or opportunities to reload on caffeine, or something stronger, if the going is getting tough.

More advice for conference organisers: if you have some important guest and don’t want them mobbed by journalists, secure some emergency escape or provide athletic training for the participant before the event. Then again, you could regard them as disposable items once they have fulfilled their agreed five or 10 minutes and are not counting on inviting them again.

Last advice for conference organisers: if you want your message to go far and wide, cut down on the food offer, keep up the caffeine, and make sure the event is not sited in one of those Prague hotels which don’t provide free wi-fi connections as a matter of course and seek to bankrupt reporters with their connection charges.

If you want to keep the message low profile, do the opposite of the above; hold the press conference in some back end of Prague with no public transport nearby. There are plenty of hotels you can choose from, I have been to quite a few of them. Journalists are usually poorly paid and their accounting staff pretty mean with taxi claims if they have every got their heads round the concept to begin with.

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