by Abigail Chard, Senior Consultant at Campus PR
When an academic sends you through a paper on which she or he is main author, does your heart sink when you see a long list of collaborators from other institutions? If all institutions involved in the research want a namecheck, it can turn what is otherwise a fairly simple process – write release, secure approval, send to journalists – into something much more long-winded.
But there are questions you have to ask when you speak to the researcher about the paper. Who else needs to be acknowledged and to what extent? People are named on papers for lots of different reasons, so it’s usually a judgement call by the lead author as to who was sufficiently involved to require a mention or a quote. But what that inevitably means is having to work with other institutions, academics and their press offices.
And, of course, the other key question to ask is who funded this research – because ideally you want to involve them as well. Another organisational press office to add to the list.
Extra work, extra time, extra things to remember when we’ve all got so much on our plates anyway. But working with all the institutions involved in a piece of research also means extra benefits.
Other universities may adapt the story for use on their websites, highlighting their role and with a quote from their academic. Quick and easy content for them if you’re already done most of the work – so it’s a no brainer, surely. They’re likely to push the story out through their social media accounts. They may even, if their involvement is significant enough, send it out to their local media. Make sure you encourage all of this when you get in touch as this helps to increase the reach of the story. For any of us who’ve worked in university press offices, we’ve probably been on both sides of this relationship. So hopefully we know the etiquette: don’t expect too high a mention in the release if you’re not the main institution and don’t send a massive boilerplate or a dreadful quote, demanding that it’s included!
Keeping funders informed about a press release is often overlooked, but shouldn’t be. Larger funders may not be able to repurpose all stories for their websites, given the volume of projects they fund, but they will expect to be named and will probably retweet the content. Smaller funders, often charities, will be overjoyed to be informed and acknowledged and very glad to use the content you provide. As well as increasing the reach of the story, if the funders are happy, your academics will be too.
And of course, the other organisation you need to liaise with is the journal publishing the paper. This can be a very different experience, depending on which journal it is. If it’s one of the major ones, with their own press office, you can be sure they will be easy to contact and deal with, to get key information about publication dates and embargoes. And for this kind of paper, the journal may be press releasing it themselves, making your job a lot easier.
However, if it’s in a more obscure title that’s one publication in a stable of hundreds for a big global publisher, you could end up struggling to get hold of the right person to find out the information you need. In this situation, the academic is more likely to be able to get the information required than you. Keep persisting though – and where the publisher does have a press office, always try them as well as the editorial team.
Another situation is where the journal is published on behalf of a charity or organisation. In this situation, it really is worth contacting the charity. I recently did this with a paper in Age and Aging, which is published for the British Geriatrics Society. Their press officer was really helpful in getting hold of the editorial team at the journal, helping to agree publication dates and embargoes and promoting the story through their own channels. To be fair, the publisher was OUP, who are great to deal with anyway, but going through the charity did help to get the research out to a key audience.
So next time you see that long list of names, don’t despair. See it as an opportunity to get the research out more widely through lots of different channels. And it’s a way to get to know the wider community of STEM PROs as well – who knows you may bump into them at a Stempra event some time!