A media availability—journalists call it "media avail" in shorthand—is a much simpler affair than a full-blown press conference. Reporters don't expect a big production at a media avail, and they don't want one. Media avails are meant to get right to the most important questions, and reporters just want answers. There are no speeches before the event. There's no dog-and-pony show, no PowerPoint slideshow. It's short, it's to the point, and it gets the job done.
Standing Media Avails
There are two basic types of media avails: standing and impromptu. You'll see standing avails every night on ESPN with coaches and players dressed up in suits instead of jerseys, taking questions from reporters after the game. Public officials often have weekly media avails in their offices. President Teddy Roosevelt used to invite reporters to chat with him at the White House while a barber gave him his morning shave. Other public figures have standing weekly chats with reporters, no cameras allowed. Some are off the record or on background, while others are full media avails with TV cameras and radio microphones allowed.
Impromptu Media Avails
When there is some breaking news and there's little or no time to prepare, a media avail is a much better option than a full press conference. Think of it this way: If you're announcing something that's big and groundbreaking, you can do it on your own timeline. You can pick when and where and what to say. If you're responding to an event in the news, however, you won't really have a choice of "when." Your comments have to be relatively immediate if they're going to matter. If you wait too long, you'll miss the news cycle.
Tips for Media Availability
Have your experts there and available. You have some time to be briefed by your experts before a press conference so you should have all the answers to likely questions in hand, but this may not be the case with a media avail. Reporters don't want to hear, "Let me get back to you on that." They want you to be able to point to someone to step in and give a correct answer or to pass the answer on to you so you can give it. Of course, you may be the expert, which streamlines things considerably.
Don't neglect to set the ground rules—they're up to you, after all. Is this an off-the-record chat or can reporters pull out their notebooks and turn on their microphones? Is it on a background? How long will it last? Are all topics fair game? Let the media know upfront. Reporters don't like surprises. They want to do their jobs. If you help them do that efficiently with this small courtesy, they'll tend to like you. And when they like you, they'll say kinder things about you. It's a win-win situation.
Be on time and get right to the point. Don't make reporters wait. Again, you want them to like you, not feel aggravated right off the bat. No matter how important you are and how plum this opportunity is for them, they won't like cooling their heels waiting for you to show up. If you schedule a 4 p.m. launch, take the podium or microphone absolutely no later than 4:05. A little wiggle room is OK to accommodate late arrivals, but be considerate of the attendees' time. Promptly take their questions and make the most of the opportunity.