Stempra goes North

16th November 2017

The second northern Stempra event was held in September at the University of Manchester, in response to the clear appetite for additional events held outside of London. Stempra Chair, Claire Hastings, welcomed some forty press & comms officers to the event and introduced a packed programme.

First up was Jamie Brown, News and Media Relations Manager at the University of Manchester. 
We all know it’s good practice to have a Crisis Communications Plan somewhere in the office – but what happens when the worst happens, and you have to mobilise your team to implement it?

Jamie talked us through two of the worst events to have happened on his watch, both within a month of each other. In the first, a fire at a cancer research building on campus, Jamie’s team had to liaise with emergency services and a complex network of partners to deliver and maintain effective comms. Just a few weeks later, following the Manchester Arena bombing, the team was back in crisis mode, reassuring students, clarifying messages, and working closely with other universities in the city to provide useful expert comment on the situation as it unfolded.

Next, we heard from Claire Bithell, Head of Communications at the Academy of Medical Sciences, about how we press officers can help increase public confidence in medical evidence, after their recent report on the subject found that only a third of people trust medical research findings.

Just before lunch, Alice Kay from the Science Media Centre gave us a whistle stop overview of the SMC’s crucial work acting in partnership with press officers when dealing with stories that are controversial or complex.

After lunch there was a lively panel discussion about embargoes and challenges imposed on the by open access publishing and pre-print servers. There was a consensus on how useful the embargo process is – to both journalists and press officers – in today’s fast-moving world of academic publishing… but with an increased desire for change from within the scientific community, there may come a time in the near future where we have to rethink how we work.

All presentations sparked useful and insightful debate from a lively audience, keen to know how useful a Crisis Comms plan really is in practice, who do we really trust to talk about medical research, and can we create a ‘fake’ embargo without ruining our credibility?

In our final session, we met BBC journalist Rachael Buchanan, Times science correspondent, Oliver Moody, and freelance science journalist, Richard Gray, who discussed how much they love and hate email, the evils of stock images (they love it when you give them pretty pictures), their views on social media and video, and a whole lot more about embargoes – plus some shocking news about how little freelancers get paid!

Delegates were busy tweeting throughout the event and you can catch up on some of the key info and observations by searching Twitter for #StempraNorth.

If you’d like to see copies of the presentation slides, please email Jo Kelly on
We’re planning more events in the north over the next few months, so look out for details and we’ll hope to see you there!

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