Published on September 19, 2014
Working with the media; a guide from the NTU Press Office What’s in it for me? Working with the press office Overcoming barriers What makes a news story? Alternatives to newspaper / broadcast coverage Media training Press Office contacts and responsibilities
1 What’s in it for me? As well as raising your own profile, and that of your discipline, media coverage has a number of benefits. Communicating your findings is often part of funding agreements so an effective media strategy can help to fulfil this, and to secure further funding. Through the media you can disseminate your research findings or demonstrate your particular areas of expertise to a wide variety of audiences. This can also help in gathering case studies and data for future studies. Press coverage can also help to generate and influence debate and, if you are taking part in REF, can lead to ‘impact’. While the press coverage itself may not be considered as impact, in the past academics have been invited to parliamentary meetings or have made new, influential contacts due to comments they have made in the press.
2 Working with the press office The press office is here to support you in raising your profile and the profile of your work. If you have a piece of news or an event in mind that you think may have media potential, please contact us as soon as possible. The sooner we’re aware of a potential opportunity the sooner we can begin to plan an appropriate strategy. We understand that you’re busy, so we’ll work with you to make the process as easy as possible. We initially only need a small amount of information from you to consider the opportunity and then we can gather further details via email, phone or face-to-face at a time convenient to you. We’ll work with you to make the most of the news angle in your story and target any relevant media. Press releases are always sent to all relevant parties for approval before they’re published and we’ll work around you as much as possible with regards to press release timings and any subsequent interviews. It helps us, and makes raising your profile easier, if you’re available to answer queries in a timely manner. If you’re working with the press office on a press release, you’ll also need to be available as much as possible to answer queries or requests for interviews at the time it is issued.
3 Overcoming barriers Many people can be reluctant to work with the media for a variety of reasons. Remember that the press office is here to support you, and we’ve addressed some of the most common concerns below. “I don’t have time” In many cases, working with the media and the press office does not require you to write anything, certainly not at any length. The press office will provide as much support as possible with regards to writing, copy checking and arranging media interviews. The majority of journalists prefer a phone call and as they are often on tight deadlines they usually won’t take up much of your time. If a journalist calls you directly and you need time to gather your thoughts, it’s fine to tell them you will call them back in ten minutes, or if you really can’t help on that occasion pointing them in the direction of a colleague or the press office will build up your reputation as a helpful source. “They didn’t use it” Because press coverage isn’t paid for like advertising, it’s not always guaranteed that what you’ve written or the comments you’ve given will be used. This could be because the news agenda has changed, or the piece the journalist has produced has been cut by their editor due to space issues. It’s not unusual for a 20 minute interview to turn into a short quote - particularly in newspapers or pre-recorded broadcast interviews - but this is standard practice due to space restrictions and even small mentions are valuable in raising your profile. The more you engage with and help journalists, the more likely they are to come back to you regularly, and this increases the chances of your work and / or comments being used. Also remember that unless a journalist is working for a specialist publication, they’ll be looking for clear sound bites that all their readers can understand. This doesn’t mean dumbing information down, but making it accessible to a wider audience – the clearer and more concise you can make your comments, the more likely the press are to use them.
4 “I don’t trust the media” Contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of journalists aren’t out to make you look bad. They always need help and they will look after a friendly academic so they can come back to them again. The press office has also built trusted relationships with a range of journalists. If you think a journalist is taking a negative line and asking something you consider to be unreasonable or outside your area of knowledge, do not be afraid to politely decline to answer the question. If you are worried about an interview before hand and any potential pitfalls, we can help you to prepare and can be present during interviews if needed. “They’ll misinterpret or criticise my research” When writing about your research, we’ll work with you to make sure you’re happy with the focus of the story and the explanation of your research. The majority of journalists want to produce an accurate and informative article and if you make yourself available to engage with them and answer any questions they may have it reduces the risk of any misunderstandings. There is always a chance that someone will disagree with your research, and in an age when people can comment on news stories online, it’s not unusual for a researcher, no matter how respected, to receive negative comments from the press and / or the public. However, there will also be people who find your research valuable and want to hear about it, and if appropriate we can help you to respond to press stories that disagree with your research or misinterpret your findings. “I’m worried about what my colleagues will think” Academics across the world, including many of the leading experts in their field, engage with the media. It is an important way of raising your profile, the profile of your work, securing research funding and recruiting students, as through the media is the quickest way to reach a wide range of audiences. Press coverage also often leads to opportunities for ‘impact’, a vital part of REF submissions. If you worry that you shouldn’t talk to the press about a topic because someone else is ‘more of an expert’ than you, remember that journalists are usually only after a few basic lines to explain a subject, it’s very rare they want, or will use, anything in-depth unless it’s for a trade publication.
5 “I’ll get into trouble with the university” Press coverage is very important in raising the reputation of the university and we encourage academics to engage with the media. If you take a call you’re not comfortable with you can redirect them to us and we’ll deal with the enquiry on your behalf. If you’re worried about the potential response to an upcoming piece of media work, we’re happy to advise you on the best way forward. Although we prefer to know in advance of any media work, if you’re called directly by a journalist on a tight deadline and you’re comfortable talking to them, please let us know afterwards so any coverage can be tracked. If you’re approached for a comment on the university’s position on an issue, please refer the caller to the press office so we can coordinate a university response. “I don’t have any training” Media training is available through the press office. Further information can be found at the end of this document.
6 What makes a news story? It might sound obvious, but something which is new, or at least something which offers a new angle to an existing story or topic. Journalists probably aren’t going to cover something which has been done or said before, they’re always looking for something different. Something which has a potentially wide interest – nationally or internationally – or a human interest angle is always good, as is an idea which is of particular topical relevance, or something unusual or out of the ordinary. Research findings are often of interest to the press. Journalists want to see tangible information – statistics, trends, effects, consequences, implications. These are vital tools when helping them to construct a news story. Also, have a look at what’s hitting the news, if there is something you feel you can comment on then let the press office know. Journalists are desperate to hear from experts who can offer impartial insight to a breaking story or issue, and when they’ve used you once there’s a very good chance they will keep coming back. The press office approaches news opportunities in a number of different ways, depending on the nature of the story. These include the tried and tested news release, expert alerts – as described above – and lining up comment and opinion pieces, or features. As well as working proactively, we are always taking calls from press contacts who want to be put in touch with academic experts who might be able to offer comment for a story they’re working on. The key thing to remember is to try to keep the press office informed of everything you’re working on and to give us as much notice as possible. We would rather hear about something and have the chance to assess whether it’s right for news, than for the opportunity to pass us by only to realise we’ve missed out on a major story.
7 Alternatives to newspaper and broadcast coverage Mainstream media coverage is not always the right medium for communicating your story. The press office will work with you to explore a number of different opportunities to help get your story out there. Features: It might be that your story would gain a better hearing with a more in-depth analysis. With an increasing number of newspapers including specialist sections or supplements that cover more specific subjects – such as health, transport, education – this could provide a better platform for your story. Specialist media: There are plenty of opportunities beyond national media coverage that may be appropriate for your story. Although they may not have the reach of national newspapers and TV coverage, trade publications, specialist journals, regional/local media, online media and special interest programmes attract audiences that may be more useful than the general sweep you will get from nationals. Social media: Social media channels are a good way of reaching niche audiences or those that may be harder to target through traditional news coverage. The press office team is increasingly engaging with social media to promote the news from NTU. Multimedia: If your story has a particularly strong visual element, video is a great way of telling your story.
8 Media training Giving an interview or speaking at a press briefing can be daunting, and the press office team is able to provide support to help address this. We offer basic print and broadcast training for members of staff through our media training workshops. These will help to give you a better understanding of how to deal with media enquiries and build confidence in dealing with the media. The workshops also cover how to prepare for media interviews and, perhaps more importantly, how to avoid the pitfalls in order to deliver key messages to maximum effect. For more in-depth training, we can also provide a broadcast only workshop that will provide you with more practical experience with dealing with radio and TV interviews. For more information, or to discuss your needs, please contact Chris Birkle or Therese Easom.
9 Press office contacts and responsibilities There are five of us in the university press office. Therese Easom is press and internal communications manager, Dave Rogers and Helen Breese are senior press officers and Kirsty Green and Chris Birkle are both press officers. We each have different areas of responsibility, which allows us to develop a greater focus on specific areas and to maintain and develop relationships with both university staff and key journalists. Press officers manage communications plans for each of their academic schools, which they use to map various press and PR opportunities over the course of an academic year. This might include research which is beginning, on-going or coming to an end, major events and conferences, or opportunities to link academic experts to the news agenda. Chris Birkle (firstname.lastname@example.org / ext. 82310) PR for the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment; The Hive; NTU environment team; NTU estates team; NTU business engagement Press releases and media enquiries Updating experts database and sourcing expert comment Coordination of in-house media training Helen Breese (email@example.com / ext. 88751) PR for the School of Arts and Humanities; Nottingham Business School; School of Education; Nottingham Law School Press releases and media enquiries Updating experts database and sourcing expert comment Crisis PR Kirsty Green (firstname.lastname@example.org / ext. 88785) PR for the School of Art & Design; Schools, Colleges and Community Outreach; Sport and Lifestyle Press releases and media enquiries Updating experts database and sourcing expert comment Dave Rogers (email@example.com / ext. 88782) PR for the School of Animal, Rural and Environment Sciences; School of Science and Technology; School of Social Sciences Press releases and media enquiries Updating experts database and sourcing expert comment Crisis PR
10 Therese Easom (firstname.lastname@example.org / ext. 88774 / mob. 07854 475059) Management of all media output and the communications team Corporate PR Crisis PR and issues management Press releases and media enquiries Management of News Centre web content Management of internal communications - to current students and staff