Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Getting your research into the media (Claire Bowers)

Professor Chris Sobey's work on stroke recovery received great coverage. 
Full story from Today can be found here: 
https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/02/20/06/56/
placental-cells-could-heal-brains-after-stroke
Since starting at La Trobe as media manager a few months ago, my team and I have been fortunate to work with some incredible academic talent on a range of high impact, headline-grabbing stories that have really helped lift the University’s research reputation.

From the latest advance in stroke treatment and Professor Jenny Graves winning the prestigious PM’s Prize for Science, to Victoria’s first driverless bus trial, these are stories that generated significant metro and national coverage.

But stories don’t have to be as big as this to attract media attention!

Sometimes, a strategically placed piece in the right media outlet can not only reach exactly the audience you want to speak to but also spark more media interest.

We also encourage more researchers to write opinion pieces – we can help you with this – as well as become media commentators on relevant topics in the current news agenda.

I suspect there are more of you out there with research that will be of media interest. We want to hear from you!

If you're thinking about getting your work more attention, you might want to consider these three questions:
  1. What’s new that hasn’t been done or known about before? Even if it’s not new in the world, being an Australian or Victorian first could still appeal.
  2. What’s the relevance and impact/potential impact of your research? Why would it matter to a person reading about it in the paper or hearing it on the radio?
  3. Are you offering an alternative perspective on a topic (for opinion pieces)?
While we will work with you to draft the media release or opinion piece pitch, it can be a useful exercise for you to have a go at drafting the release yourself (which we can then edit and finesse).

This will help you think about what the key, take-out messages are and what you would want the media to report.

So, here are a few tips on structuring a media release:
  • A grabbing headline: The headline should be short, punchy and clever. It should accurately reflect the content of the release.
  • Impact in the first sentence: Think about the most powerful point/key message you want to make in the first sentence. Journalists receive hundreds of media releases a day and many will only read the first sentence before rejecting a story if it doesn’t engage them immediately. This is likely to be the overall impact of the research and what makes it unique/different.
  • Include quotes: Include quotes from the lead media spokesperson and any other relevant stakeholders – this is essential as it enables journalists to use the quotes as though they have interviewed you. Keep quotes short and use them to articulate in a more ‘human’ way the nature of the story and its impact/implications.
  • The how, why, what, when and who: Following your striking opening sentence and first quote, succinctly address why the research was carried out, how it was carried out (but avoid becoming too technical and detailed here), when it was carried out and who carried it out (this is where you might cite other stakeholders and organisations involved).
  • Where does the story lead next? It’s good to finish a release with looking ahead to what the next stage of the research will be. You might consider bringing back your lead researcher with a final quote on this.

Other points to consider:

  • Keep it succinct: Media releases should not exceed one page and should have a maximum of three quotes. Media will follow up if they want more information.
  • Is the press release understandable to a general audience? If you read your media release to someone with no background in this area, would they understand it? Will a mainstream, non-specialist journalist understand it? Your media release should be informative, engaging and most importantly, understandable.
  • Support it with data: If you are making claims in your media release, you should use facts and figures to back them up. Avoid making generalisations.
  • What are your intentions with the media release? What are you trying to achieve by having your story in the media? Is there a ‘call to action’? If so, make this clear in the media release.
As previously mentioned, the La Trobe media team are here to help, from assessing whether your research story will be of interest to the media, to helping you shape your key messages and draft your press release. We have great media contacts and will pitch the story to them. We can also give you media coaching if you’re nervous about doing media interviews.

Here's the contact details for the Media and Communications team. Our website also hosts a big range of media tools and resources [intranet].

We're looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Claire Bowers | Media Manager, La Trobe | c.bowers@latrobe.edu.au

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Claire Bowers joined La Trobe as Media Manager at the end of September 2017. She has previously worked for three years at Monash University as media manager and senior media advisor in their science faculty.

Claire’s 23-year career in media relations started in London at Penguin Books in the days when press releases had to be faxed because email hadn’t yet been invented (!).

She has worked in senior media roles for a number of high profile organisations including The Natural History Museum and the BBC. 

Claire moved to Australia with her husband and two children four and a half years ago, and loves nothing more than walking in the bush and spotting Aussie wildlife (kookaburras and wombats are particular favourites).

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