3L. Getting media attention for research – making the most of conferences
While research conferences, per se, are not newsworthy, journalists may be interested in reporting on specific topics or speakers on the conference programme. Busy journalists are unlikely to sit through several days of conference presentations. That is why it is very important to have one or two special sessions targeted at the media.
Before the conference
It is important to have a communication expert as part of the organising committee from the start, and to assign a person to be responsible for the media engagement before, during and after the conference. Large conferences may require a proper conference media strategy.
The conference web site must provide clear contact details for members of the media who may be interested in attending.
It is the job of the media officer to identify the relevant journalists to be invited (including those who may participate from a remote location) and invite them well ahead of the event. Provide information about the significance of the event and key speakers in the invitation letter. You will have to study the conference programme and abstracts carefully to identify highlights and noteworthy topics.
The media officer (or media team for large events) is also responsible for responding to media enquiries, and providing social media support for the conference.
Don’t expect journalists to pay a conference registration fee. They should receive complimentary registration. It is also a good idea to offer complimentary tickets to conference dinners and social events—this is where journalists and researchers have an opportunity to mix on an informal basis.
Have a special area or desk where the media can register at your event. Provide them with name tags that clearly indicate they are from the media, so that scientists can identify journalists during your event.
Preparing conference media kits
A good media kit, hand-delivered ahead of time, can help spark interest in a science conference. The media kit will typically contain all relevant media releases, a list of story ideas and top speakers and relevant background and contact information. Also include detailed information on the venue, event schedule and directions, with maps and GPS coordinates.
Running the conference media room
A dedicated and smooth-running media room is the key to generating news coverage from a science conference. The media room is a place where journalists can work and get hold of conference materials (press releases, abstracts, speakers’ contact details and biographies, etc.). It must have good, free coffee, tea, water, snacks and fast, reliable wifi!
The media room may get very busy and noisy at times. That is why you need to book an additional quiet space where radio journalists can record interviews. Television journalists may prefer to film in an area where other people are moving around and some of the conference materials (banners, flags, etc.) are visible in the background.
Provide resources online
Your conference web site should have a dedicated media portal for press releases, media briefs, speakers’ contact details and a dedicated image library. These resources will help journalists, also those who are not able to attend in person, to report comprehensively and accurately on the event.
Nowadays most conferences will also have a dedicated Facebook page and Twitter feed that can serve as real-time sources of news about highlights from the event.
Organising one or two media conferences within the bigger science conference creates an opportunity for journalists who can only attend for an hour or two to interact with key speakers. These media conferences are typically only 30 minutes long and can even be held during lunch breaks. (Ideally, research communicators should be in touch with a conference organising committee from the start, to make sure that the programme allows time for media conferences.)
Pick two or three of the most high-profile and interesting speakers and invite them to present a short summary of the highlights (key issues) of their conference papers. Send them an advisory in advance, asking them to make themselves available for media interviews and engagement at the conference and explain where interviews will be held. Allow enough time for questions from the media. Journalists will usually want to follow up with their own individual interviews after the media conference, so make sure the speakers are free for an extra 10 – 20 minutes afterwards.
With the help of online meeting tools such as Skype and Google hangouts, it is also possible to include journalists who may not be able to attend the conference in person. Allocate additional time to the “remote” journalists during the press conference, or set up one-on-one interviews for them.
Linking with other conferences
If a researcher from the institution where you work presents a paper at a high-profile scientific conference organised by someone else – especially if it is a keynote talk or invited paper – it represents a valuable opportunity for media coverage. Get in touch with the conference press office. Send them a press release based on the talk or a preview of the talk, as well as the other usual supporting materials such as visuals. Also send the press release – linked to the conference – directly to your own media contacts. Then arrange interviews with the researcher during or immediately after the conference.
Points to consider
You may be able to learn a great deal and pick up valuable tips from how other communicators use research conferences as a communication platform. Always look for new ideas and approaches when you are present at a research conferences. Also, look at the online ‘media’ pages of major research meetings to see how they use the conference web site and social media to add value to their communication and engagement efforts.