4 tips for virtual media roundtable success

09/29/2020 - Lori Bertelli

We’ve learned many things during our time working from home. While this practice continues and may be ongoing, PR teams are continuing to adapt approaches to media relations. We’ve weighed in previously, for instance, on the best practices for conducting virtual events.

Another tool in the PR chest is the media roundtable, which can still be useful virtually if executed well through thoughtful planning. Video conferencing platforms, including Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams provide opportunities to deliver a well-attended virtual roundtable. What is a media roundtable, you ask? While definitions can vary, a roundtable is in essence a structured back-and-forth conversation between subject matter experts in your field. Typically, roundtables are hosted by a moderator — around the table, as it were — and attended by key journalists who chronicle the event. When executed well, roundtables can be a powerful way to get the word out from top-tier publications in your space.

Here are four tips for virtual media roundtable success:

The magic number

Keep your event to a number that you can easily manage. We recommend three to four panelists from your client organization, their customers and/or partners and 10 or fewer reporters. Because you are organizing a virtual event, you are able to include more journalists from different locations. While this would be hard to pull off for an in-person event, journalist attendees from across the country are within the realm of possibilities for your virtual roundtable.

Timing is everything

When crafting your invitation to journalists, give them a compelling reason to attend. If you are timing the roundtable with another event, select a time where your event doesn’t conflict the larger event’s schedule. You don’t want journalists to decline simply because they are attending an opening keynote. Also, lay out for them why they will find it valuable to attend your event. Is there a major news trend that relates to your host company? Can you sweeten the deal with a meal delivery from the journalist’s favorite restaurant or other gift? Also, remember to be conscientious of reporters’ time; keep the event to an hour or less.

The emcee and supporting cast

A good moderator is key and will keep the timing of the roundtable. This person will host, monitor questions and keep the conversation flowing. Choose a charismatic person, preferably with some experience in this role. At the beginning of the event, the moderator will explain the format and how journalists should ask questions. You can decide how to handle this once you decide on the video conferencing platform you will use.

Also, ask a few colleagues to assist you with management of questions from participants as well as possible technical issues that may arise. You want someone to be able to lead if you or anyone else experiences a Wi-Fi problem or you lost connection for another reason.

You know what they say about practice

Schedule several run-throughs with your panelists so you can evaluate their at-home backgrounds, their technical setup, and offer advice on lighting and appearance. You have several workarounds for backgrounds including virtual scenes like a smart office interior or personal library, or simply incorporating the company logo.

Don’t shy away from media roundtables in our current circumstances. A well thought out roundtable can deliver engaging short-term media coverage for your client, as well as establish your executives as go-to industry thought leaders for key publications in your space.