Conference 2015: "Dealing with the Press" workshop report

David Secher, past Chairman, Patron and co-founder of PraxisUnico, reports from the workshop chaired by Adam Stoten of Isis Innovation which featured a panel including Tony Hickson, Imperial Innovations; Michael Whelan, UCD; and Adam Smith, Senior Reporter, Research Fortnight.

This was an interactive workshop in two parts, with the first featuring "How to get noticed" and the second including a mock interview with journalist Adam Smith.

As an example of how to get noticed, a video of a new pan based on aerodynamic principles was shown, which originated from The University of Oxford. This was a good example of how video is increasingly used to promote technologies and engage audiences.

Impact case studies and piggybacking on academic publications are also good ways to get content. It's a good idea to work with the university press office to help spread the message. It can be tricky to tell what is newsworthy - if possible, build a trusted relationship with one or more journalists (or try asking a member of your family or other non-technical friend), to get a feel for what is of interest. And remember the power of social media - journalists do follow Twitter!

The session moved on to a fictional press release and a mock interview between a journalist and a Technology Transfer Office Director. Various learning points were teased out by the audience and the panel:

When asked a difficult, sensitive question, "No comment" sounds a bit political and clichéd. Try to replace it with the opportunity to make a different positive statement.

"Off the record".  Be careful!  It depends crucially on the nature of the relationship between the journalist and the interviewee. Conventional wisdom and advice from the press office likely to be "No such thing as 'off the record'"; experienced interviewees (and politicians) know which journalists they can trust not to attribute information. Get to know your journalists, but if in doubt treat everything as "on the record".

Don't waffle if stumped by a "curve ball" question. Feel confident to say "I am not here to answer questions on that" or take the opportunity to make a different point. ("That is an interesting question, but the key point today is ....")

Should a press officer accompany the interviewee?  Unless there is university policy, it is a matter of personal preference. Panel opinions varied, but some experienced interviewees like to invite a press officer, who can take on follow-up actions, learn how to answer some questions for future interviews and offer post-interview advice.

Always have three points in mind that you want to get across. Be prepared to offer a piece of information not included in the press release.

Prepare well for an interview and in particular try to anticipate the difficult questions.

It is ok to say to a journalist on the phone "May I call you back in five minutes?" to gather your thoughts.

Some people's anxiety at talking to journalists can come over as hostility. Consider getting professional media training for your key inventors.

Finally, an important point was made that issuing "confetti" press releases at every small item of news is a waste of time and effort, but it's also important not to just rely on a posting on your website to tell the world your news. If you don't now engage with the media, consider developing a media strategy, and help ensure that the message gets out about the valuable work with which KEC professionals are involved!