Know What You Want, Part Two

7 August 2013 by Matt Shipman, posted in Uncategorized

Once you know your audience, you need to target potential media outlets accordingly. (Photo credit: banola/stock.xchng)

In my last post I wrote about why it’s important to have clear goals when you engage in science communication efforts, particularly for PIOs, and how to write a single story that addresses very different audiences. Now I want to talk about what happens next.

Once you’ve written something up, what do you do with it? To answer that question, it is absolutely essential to know your goals and your audiences (or your employer's goals and audiences).

I'll use my employer as an example. I work at a university, and since the university’s goal is to reach a wide variety of audiences, I want to pitch my story to reporters that write for mainstream media outlets. Local and regional news outlets (e.g., the local paper or TV station) may not be very exciting to researchers, but they are often the best way to reach the potential students, alumni, legislators and industry partners that university administrators care about. National mainstream news outlets (e.g., TIME Magazine or the New York Times) are good for much the same reason.

Most PIOs are familiar with the relevant outlets, and can find the right reporter at each outlet with a little bit of work. (I wrote previously about how to pitch reporters without being annoying.)

But to reach the outlets that are most likely to help the researcher meet his or her goals, you will probably need help from the researchers themselves. I often ask researchers where they go, outside of the peer-reviewed literature, to find out what is happening in their field. Specifically, I’m looking for news outlets that run stories written by reporters, but target an extremely specific audience. These can be discipline specific or industry specific.

Does the researcher belong to a society that publishes a newsletter or magazine? Are there web sites or blogs that highlight research news items in the researcher’s specific field? These are discipline specific outlets. In materials science, for example, you can find Materials Today magazine or the Materials Views blog. Both are run by large publishers (Elsevier and Wiley-VCH, respectively), but cover research regardless of what journal the research was published in. And both are read almost exclusively by materials scientists. Maybe only a few thousand people will see a story that runs in either outlet, but all of those people matter. They are potential collaborators and people who may cite the research in their own papers.

Industry-specific outlets are more application-oriented. For example, if I’m responsible for promoting materials science research that may be relevant to the development of new semiconductors, I’ll want to target news outlets that are read by the semiconductor industry. And there’s a lot to choose from: Semiconductor Today, CS Magazine and the SEMI family of newsletters, to name a few. The people who read those outlets are important too. They’re the people who may license new discoveries or fund additional research – and the people at federal agencies who want to demonstrate the value of research to Congress.

It’s also worthwhile to pay attention to the news outlets that are run directly by federal agencies. For example, I often pitch stories to the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Science360 site. In my experience, the only thing that makes a researcher happier than seeing their work highlighted by a federal funding agency is receiving a grant from a federal funding agency. (And funding agencies definitely care about science communication.)


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