Can Google Hangouts replace press conferences?

The press conference

Faced with the problem of how to reconcile arranging a press conference for a VIP with the lack of a hard news story, independent communications consultancy Keene Communications adopted a different approach, one that might interest you. Guest writer Michael White explains.

This is a story of why we chose to replace a press conference with a Google Hangout On Air and invited bloggers to participate instead of journalists.

The results suggest that these types of events could offer a realistic alternative to press conferences and that bloggers could replace journalists as the primary audience that a PR has to engage with.

Fighting words? Then you decide.

Many PR agencies will recognise this challenge (probably some in house PROs too). The client informs you that a VIP is visiting and has made time to meet some journalists. He’s not intending to announce anything and has no hard news, but is expecting to see a full house!

The pressure’s now on to call in favours, twist arms and jump through hoops. Hours are spent and emotional heat is generated.  Despite all this, chances are that attendance is not as expected; nor is the press cuttings file. The VIP expresses his disappointment with the result that, although heads don’t roll, several cats get kicked.

Sound familiar? Probably because it’s a problem that’s been around as long as the PR industry. But it’s getting bigger. Shrinking editorial teams means journalists don’t have the time to attend content-free press conferences. And if there was content, they don’t have the time to leave their office. At the same time, their circulations are shrinking, so the PR questions whether they should attend anyway.

So our hearts sank when our long term client, Australia’s Tourism Northern Territory (the organisation charged with promoting and developing tourism in the Northern Territory) told us that their newly appointed  Minister for Tourism and Major Events, the Hon. Matt Conlan and Tourism NT’s  CEO, Tony Mayell, would be visiting London and had made time available to meet some journalists. What’s worse, they’d already hosted press events in Singapore and Germany and were looking to do the same in London.

Our problem was that, due to several events taking place at the same time, we knew attendance would be low. So we decided instead to try something new – a Google Hangout On Air event.

We planned for the event to be 100 percent digital with all information shared across NT’s UK social media channels. Invites were to be confirmed using Google Events and media packs were to be made available online only using Google Drive.

Travel bloggers, by definition, travel and Google Hangouts On Air meant bloggers could engage with the event from anywhere in the world – this was live television with a social media twist.

We invited writers and new media creators as well as travel bloggers and collaborated with Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU) so giving us access to its 420+ membership base.

Recognising the need for an experienced facilitator to manage the conversation we engaged Alastair McKenzie. Alastair is a top travel journalist and Webmaster & Vice Chairman of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He also hosts a weekly Google Hangout of his own; Travel Coffee Break.

We partnered with Beyond Content, an agency specialising in content creation, who hired a Central London studio and provided the expertise needed for the visual and sound mixing.

On the 11th March, our Google Hangout On Air was broadcast across YouTube and Google+. Bloggers watched a live video stream and posed questions directly to the Minister and the CEO across Twitter, Google Chat, Google+ and YouTube.

Google+ Hangout on Air
[Pictured, left to right: travel journalist and Webmaster and Vice Chairman of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Alastair McKenzie; Minister for Tourism and Major Events, the Hon. Matt Conlan; Tourism NT’s CEO, Tony Mayell.]
During the event, we received questions every 30 seconds and enjoyed a level of engagement with travel bloggers that would have been lacking had we arranged a press conference.


  • 33 bloggers participated; nine took part in the Google Hangout and a further 24 watched via Twitter.
  • Bloggers were based in five countries, the UK, US, Norway, Sweden and Ireland.
  • The event received 151 mentions on Twitter via the #NTLive hashtag.
  • During the Hangout, Twitter reached a total of 365,557 users (a circulation figure only slightly lower than The Times.
  • Seven bloggers asked to enrol in the NT’s media family programme (21% of the participants).
  • One influential blogger has incorporated the material into his own podcast.

The Hangout lasted for over ninety minutes, so Beyond Content created a ten minute video which we posted on NT’s own YouTube channel (and is embedded below).

We also had a stills photographer John Deehan take shots in the studio whilst the Hangout was taking place. We uploaded a selection to Flickr.

Importantly, the client was delighted and on his return to the Northern Territory, the Minister’s office issued a press release about the event. In it, he said, “We received a terrific response with the Hangout… which forms part of our new digital approach to marketing the Northern Territory 24/7 and was extremely exciting to participate in”.

In my view, the Google Hangout On Air worked better than a press conference for three reasons:

  1. It fulfilled Tourism NT’s Social Media Brief
    Our client ‘went social’ earlier this year, ditching traditional PR for social media. We needed to show the client that we got social media.
  2. We wanted to give back to the blogging community
    We wanted to engage with the blogosphere so bloggers could learn about the NT.
  3. Content is more than copy
    PR is more than written copy; it’s about photography and video. To keep content flowing across different mediums we needed rich content.

Would you agree? Check out the video:

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

Michael White is a Consultant at Keene Communications, a business which has been providing Public Affairs, Public Relations and Representation services for over 25 years. He devises and executes digital and social marketing campaigns, using the latest technology available, providing measurable results. Connect with Michael on Twitter: @michaelwhite1.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Andrew Bruce Smith

    Great post. Excellent example of how using Google Hang Outs can deliver a more inclusive experience for a wider variety of potentially interested parties – and without breaking the bank ;)

    If you haven’t seen them use it already, worth watching Al Jazeera’s English news channel – they frequently make use of Google Hang Outs to link the the studio based presenter with interviewees literally anywhere in the world (also allows them to involve many interviewees at once rather than the traditional linear approach). If a major international TV broadcaster feels confident enough to use Google Hang Outs on a daily basis as a routine element of live TV, surely it can be used to replace some of the rather tired PR vehicles of yore ie the location-tied press conference.

  2. Rm Sorg

    Really Great Results for this company!!

    Newer content that can be helpful in “real time” for companies and businesses that embrace SM..

    Thanks for the share!

  3. Top 30 Marketing Blogs of 2012

    […] 10. Neville Hobson is a social media afficianado and tech enthusiast whose blog is focused on presenting his thoughts regarding social media marketing. Neville uses his blog to track and talk about emerging trends in new media, and the ways society is changing regarding the consumption of information. Highlight: Can Google Hangouts Replace Press Conferences? […]

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