As a university student, it can be tempting to see published research as your ‘end game’. But getting your findings in front of journalists can take your study’s impact, and your profile, to impressive new heights.
Whether you’re researching for your undergraduate Honours project, your postgraduate thesis, your PhD or even as a seasoned academic, there’s value in knowing how to shape your academic work into a media-worthy story. Claire Bowers, Media Manager at La Trobe, shares her tips for placing your research with a media outlet that’s the perfect fit.
Consider what you have to offer
From the latest advance in stroke treatment, to a prestigious PM’s Prize for Science awardee and Victoria’s first driverless bus trial, university media teams get to work on a range of high impact, headline-grabbing stories.
But stories don’t have to be this big to attract media attention. Sometimes, a strategically placed piece in the right media outlet can not only reach exactly the audience you want, but also spark more media interest.
If you’re thinking about getting your work some media attention, consider these four questions:
- What’s new that hasn’t been done or known about before?
- Why would it matter to a person reading about it in the paper, online or hearing it on the radio?
- What’s the relevance and impact, or potential impact, of your research?
- For opinion pieces, are you offering an alternative perspective on a topic?
If you think your research can add value to the news agenda and that it will excite the people who read your story, then it should appeal to journalists from a variety of media outlets.
Make your media release compelling
It can be useful to have a go at drafting a media release yourself before passing it on to your organisation’s media or corporate communications team to finesse and polish. This exercise will help you identify what the key messages are and what you would want the media to report.
Here are five things to keep in mind when writing your media release:
- Lead with a grabbing headline: The headline should be short, punchy and clever. It should accurately reflect the content of the release.
- Make an impact with the first sentence: Think about the most powerful point or 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.
- Briefly explain 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).
- Include succinct quotes for added power: 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 implications.
- Describe where the story will go next: Finish your press release by looking ahead to what the next stage of your research will be. Consider bringing back your lead researcher with a final, future-focused quote.
Facts, brevity and readership
Once you’ve completed your first draft, take a step back and consider it from the perspective of the person who’ll be receiving it.
- 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.
- Ensure a general audience can understand it: 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 your story with data: If you are making claims in your media release, you should use facts and figures to back them up. Avoid making generalisations.
- Be clear on your intentions: 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.
Reach out for expert support
Before you send your research off into the world, don’t be afraid to get someone in your organisation’s media and communications team to give it a once over. They can assess whether your story will be of interest to the media, help you shape your key messages and draft your press release.
Most organisations have great media contacts and will pitch the story to them on your behalf. Some can even offer media coaching if you’re nervous about doing interviews.
As you get into the habit of writing opinion pieces, and working towards becoming a media commentator on topics relevant to your discipline, your expertise may end up driving the current news agenda.
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