TAKING CHARGE WITH THE MEDIA:
Promoting Your Work Proactively
- Keep in touch
- Pitch stories
Knowing that the media are ALWAYS looking for content, you don’t need to wait for them to come to you.
Keep them informed when you’re up to something. Whether it’s your latest research project or published work, there’s a good chance they’ll be interested enough to consider a story.
A sure-fire way to get noticed by the media and have them interested in you and your subject matter is to highlight anything that is new or happening for the first time. One of the criteria for news media organizations is how immediate or new the subject matter is. That’s why it’s called NEWS. If there is ANYTHING that you’re involved with that qualifies as cutting edge or new and different, the media will love that and want that from you. So, give it to them!
How do you go about “pitching” a story? Depending on the procedures at your department, you’re likely to have two main routes: going through your institution’s press office, and contacting a reporter or producer directly.
Making the most of your ally: the institutional press office
Most research scientists are blessed with a key communication ally: your university or institutional press office. If you work in an academic or institutional setting, you won’t have to go it alone with the media. Part of the press office’s job is getting the word out to the public about all the wonderful things the institution is accomplishing – including your research.
Each institution will do things differently, but the media office’s functions vis-a-vis research typically include:
- Learning about “newsworthy” events on campus -- these may include publication of your new paper or the start-up of your new grant or project
- Working with you to prepare a press release
- Sending the release to appropriate media outlets
- Coordinating interviews with you when reporters respond
- Helping you prepare through interview training.
In other words, the press office is your partner in getting your message out to local and national media. Your role in the partnership is to be aware of when you’re doing something “newsworthy” and give the office a heads-up as soon as possible so they can work with you.
What’s “newsworthy” in research?
As the word “news” suggests, newness or timeliness determines to a large extent whether an item will garner the media’s interest. Two items typically qualify as “newsworthy” in an academic science environment: newly released research results, and the launch of new projects or studies.
How newsworthy these are will depend on various factors: how “hot” the topic of research is to the local (or the national) press, how dramatic your results are, and whether the topic relates to a subject area that is emphasized or promoted by your institution. For example, if your campus heavily publicizes its cancer research facilities, cancer news will have a leg up on other topics, all else being equal.
If you have any doubt about whether your upcoming paper or newly funded project merits a press release, call your media office and ask!
Timeliness is critical. No matter how exciting your paper is, if it was released last month, it’ll get a yawn from the media (unless you’ve found the secret to eternal youth, which might buy you a few more days). For new research papers, having a press release out on the day of first publication (whether electronic or print), or even before that, puts you in the best position to get phone calls for interviews.
Thus, if you know a newsworthy event is in the works, your press office will appreciate hearing about it at the earliest possible occasion. For example, if you hear from a journal that your manuscript has been accepted and will be published in three months, shoot an e-mail off to your press office now instead of waiting until the day before publication. That will give your in-house writers time to do a bang-up job preparing and sending out your press release.
Coordinating with the office
To help the press officer learn about your project, send them your primary documents: the paper, manuscript, or grant abstract. Most academic media offices handle confidential and unpublished material routinely and can be trusted to keep your items secure. Check with them first if you have any concerns.
Usually one person within the office will be assigned your project. Some offices work in a “beat” structure, in which each writer specializes in a certain subject area. This helps, since the writer you get will be familiar with your general field. After doing some background reading, the press officer will probably contact you to discuss more about your story or get quotations for the press release. You can also discuss the best audience for the release: local, urban, rural, national, or internal.
Your press office most likely maintains a huge database of media outlets and their contact information and will have a good idea of whom to target, though you can certainly suggest particular outlets. The best part: the office does the actual work for you.
Pitching stories directly to a media contact
You may have worked with a particular media professional before and suspect she or he would be interested in something new happening in your lab. Often, stories get covered as a result of a one-to-one relationship between you and a reporter, editor or producer. If you’ve been interviewed previously by a media outlet representative, get the person’s contact information and keep in touch!
If you’re going to pitch a story this way, you still may want to keep your internal press office informed. Indeed, sometimes you’re required to get their authorization -- for example, if you work for a federal organization like a Veterans Administration medical facility. But you can keep a list of the media folks who have contacted you, and any editors or reporters who you think may have interest in your work. And then if you have a story idea, you can let them know.
The best way is through e-mail or perhaps social media, if you’re a participant. If you’re using e-mail, use the same tactics you would use during an interview: Make your story sound compelling. In the “subject line” of the email, the word “new” always gets their attention.
Of course, you could always pick up the phone and call. But all too often, you’re going to get voicemail or someone who’s on deadline and doesn’t have time to talk.
If the media consider you an expert in a particular subject or field, they will remember and keep calling you back. And then you’ll become a regular, and probably want to hire an agent!