At the heart of any research institution’s media strategy should be a steady stream of press releases to your database of journalists.
These should summarise in a punchy, accessible form the findings of research projects, either those published in books, working papers, scholarly journals or special reports prepared for a wider audience or which will be presented at academic conferences or public events. They should rarely announce the launch of new projects: the media are interested in results not what you plan to do.
A central part of this activity should be to establish some ‘branding’ for the releases so that journalists expect a certain kind of high quality research on topics of current interest and turn to your institution for comment on matters on which you’ve previously indicated expertise. Such branding may simply involve your institution’s logo and a particular colour that dominates your website and publications. But be careful not to have to many brands involved: it can be confusing if your institution, department, university and funding body are all listed as participants in your research project.
It is usually worth issuing press releases around self-made ‘hooks’ – ‘at a conference happening today, Professor X will say…’ or ‘a report published this week reveals that…’. In general, you should also put an embargo at the top of the release: ‘not for publication or broadcast before 00:01 hours on…’. An embargo gives journalists time to do further research on the story in the knowledge that no competitors will publish before them.
Remember that if journalists want more information, they’ll come first to you, so do make sure you are reachable at all hours between the time of issuing the release and the embargo. Researchers are notorious for being rather elusive people: try not to be when the media will be trying to contact you. If possible, give a mobile telephone number, and if you are left a message, always return the call immediately.