5 lessons from The Preakness’ virtual press event

With traditional press gatherings forced online due to COVID-19, comms pros promoting the illustrious annual horse race pivoted to offer unique access.

The Preakness' virtual press event

When you can’t hold a presser or traditional media event because of public health concerns, you have to get creative.

That was certainly the case for the team tasked with promoting this year’s running of The Preakness, a thoroughbred horse race that’s been captivating audiences since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House.

The race, which typically is held on the third Saturday in May but was moved to early October this year, had no spectators, and the gatherings of fans and journalists to cover the event were called off.

Virtual-Press-Event-Preakness

Instead, the team at The Brand Guild  produced a unique experience to bring reporters into the event and give them something to write about: a virtual press event.

“In some cases, you want to create an experience, you want to be able to show what’s unique about what you’re pitching and the story you want placed, and not just tell them,” says Amy Clark, senior vice president of PR for The Brand Guild.  “A virtual press event allows you to paint a holistic story.”

To make the event memorable, The Brand Guild’s team sent journalists a mailer filled with Preakness-related treats, including ingredients to craft a “Black-Eyed Susan,” the traditional cocktail consumed on race weekend.

ATTACHMENT DETAILS Brand-mailer-virtual-press-event

“The Preakness Stakes and the Owner’s Chalet, that media [members] are usually invited to, are such a unique experience and we wanted to translate that, albeit in a small way, to a physical mailer knowing that we wouldn’t be able to be in person,” Clark says.

To bring the event “to life,” virtual event attendees were able to mix their own Black-Eyed Susans while hearing about the signature cocktail’s history and snacking on traditional Baltimore fare like crab chips. Reporters were also encouraged to browse a betting book while listening to a handicapping expert.

The Brand Guild’s team relied on technology to make the virtual event possible. “We used Crowdcast to broadcast the event and Streamyard for our digital Green Room for spokespeople,” Clark says.

Lessons learned

Here are some takeaways Clark shares to create your own virtual press event:

1. Hire a producer. Even if you think you can do it yourself, hire someone who will ensure the technology goes off without a hitch and that the event looks professional, Clark advises.

2. Get an engaging moderator. Someone who can step in to cover for technical difficulties or programming lulls is a big plus for a virtual event, Clark says.

3. Embrace social connection. Media pros are tired of COVID-19 and WFH restrictions, too. Clark says that journalists are eager to participate—if you can give them an entertaining hour that surpasses the ubiquitous “Zoom Happy Hour.”

4. Know your end goal. If you want attendees to write about your event in advance and share key messages—in Clark’s case, when and where to watch The Preakness—make sure you prepare attendees with that information ahead of time. Then, reporters can ask questions they need to find a unique story angle.

5. Do a full practice run. Prep your spokespeople in advance to ensure they have all their talking points nailed down and that they are camera ready, Clark says. In this day and age, that includes a nice virtual background.

Are you using virtual press events to engage reporters during the ongoing pandemic? Share your thoughts and takeaways in the comments, please.

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