STEMPRA Regional Event – Birmingham

4th December 2019

STEMPRA comes to Brum.

Stempra’s regional event came to Birmingham for the first time, bringing with it three great sessions on working with journals; pitching to journalists and podcasting.

We were joined by journal communication managers Bex Walton (Nature), Emily Head (the Lancet) and Jodie Bell (Taylor & Francis) to talk about how we can work better with journals and how we can navigate the brave, but sometimes thorny, new world of preprint servers.

Some key insights from our panel included:

  • Bex, Jodie and Emily are all part of small teams trying to identify the strongest media stories from huge numbers of papers. All three panellists agreed that they were delighted when PROs wanted to promote papers and are keen to work with them. They are grateful to be kept informed to minimise duplication of effort and to make best use of resources. They also agreed that educating and supporting editors and authors to flag research with media potential is vital.
  • Although journal editors want to work with authors to agree the best time to publish, this often simply means ‘as quickly as possible’. If comms managers want to delay publication to assemble media materials, it’s always worth putting in a request to the editorial teams.
  • Taylor & Francis support press campaigns by offering final version of published papers to give to journalists and free access to their papers for a short time after the embargo period has lifted, so it’s worth asking for this to include in a press package.
  • Preprint servers – Our panellists agreed that setting embargoes is a problem if the paper appears on a preprint server, but recognise that these are becoming increasingly widely used. Often researchers might not understand the impact that a preprint publication might have on their paper’s media potential, so it’s worth discussing this with them if you have the opportunity. The Lancet launched its own preprint server in June 2018 – you can check out their FAQs on this service.

A pitching session, led by communications consultant Ruth Francis and Shane Canning, communications manager at the University of Edinburgh, focused on a common dilemma for all press officers – when do you decide to pitch a story rather than sending it out far and wide via a press release?

It can be tempting to pitch in situations where you can’t set an embargo, or to strengthen a weak story – but Ruth and Shane focused on lots of more positive reasons for pitching. It can be an opportunity to get across subtler or more in-depth messages about the organisation behind the research – and you can also offer richer content by giving the journalist time to organise filming or additional interviews.

Finally, it can be worth working with a single journalist that you trust on stories where there is the potential for controversy or where content may be sensitive. Each table then discussed how they’d handle example stories that Ruth and Shane provided and fed back to the room.

Izzie Clarke introducing the basics of setting up a podcast.

Our final session of the day was with the excellent freelance journalist and podcaster, Izzie Clarke. Izzie, a former producer for the Naked Scientist podcast, took us through the basics of setting up a podcast, from picking topics and interviewees, through what equipment you might need to start, to how to create a soundbank to bring your interviews to life. This is a communications form that lots of research press officers are engaging with, from dipping a cautious toe in the water to running highly successful regular shows. Izzie’s presentation opened up an extremely useful toolbox that put podcasting within the reach of everyone with a mobile phone, a researcher able to speak engagingly about their subject – and a room full of soft furnishings!

Thanks to all who attended, and to the University of Birmingham who hosted and fed us all!

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