Media Impact Guide and Toolkit
Guidance and tools for University Press Offices
to generate impact from research
The best press office teams don’t just communicate great ideas – they help enable those ideas to change the world. You have the privilege of working with some of the world’s most intelligent people, tackling some of the greatest challenges facing the world today. Could your skills be part of the solution?
Who is this guide and toolkit for?
This is for you if you work in a University Press Office and want to:
Enable the researchers you work with to generate real-world impacts from the opportunities that arise from media coverage
Work more closely with researchers at different stage of the research cycle and work more closely with publics and stakeholders who engage with your media work
Know the significance of impacts that have arisen from your work with the media
Work more effectively with professional services impact teams to provide a more integrated service to researchers
Play a more strategic role in your University’s mission to generate impact from research
While the guide was written for UK Universities and the empirical data is based on a UK survey, the tools and principles are based on evidence from research literature, and are widely applicable across national contexts.
Why do we need this guide and toolkit now?
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a major strategic driver of investment and activity in the UK Higher Education sector. Research impact accounts for 25% of the scores (and hence funding from Research England) that institutions receive in REF2021, with most commentators expecting the weighting to increase in the subsequent assessment period.
However, press offices rarely engage directly with researchers to plan their impact until they are ready to communicate their findings to the media. As a result, media opportunities are often missed or poorly targeted for generating impact, and there are limited opportunities to collect evidence of the ultimate impacts that arose from the coverage.
More concerning are reports of impact teams and consultants advising researchers against engaging with the media because press coverage is “only” engagement (or a “pathway” to impact), and not evidence of actual impact that will count for REF. As a result, the impact agenda may make it harder than it already is to motivate researchers to engage with your press team.
But there is good news…
We have many inspiring stories to tell about researchers whose media coverage led to significant and far-reaching benefits, from the creation of new medical treatments and laws, to changing attitudes and behaviours at scale. This guide and toolkit will share some of these stories, while providing you with the knowledge and skills you need to generate measurable impact from media engagement.
Each guide is based on a synthesis of research evidence and experience from professional services staff from press offices and impact teams and researchers across the UK. Tools embedded within the guides include:
Planning tools: for example, the impact planning template in Guide 3 enables you to design media engagement to meet measurable impact goals
Targeting tools: for example, publics/stakeholder analysis in Guide 3 enables you to target specific segments of the public that are likely to benefit most and the outlets that will most likely reach them, including hard-to-reach groups
Evaluation tools: for example, social media analysis, the funnel approach and before/after polling in Guide 4 enable you to evidence the significance of impacts arising from media engagement
Start with guide 1, or skip ahead to what interests you most:
Section 2: What is impact?
The second guide explains the difference between engagement and impact, to help you understand why media engagement is increasingly being identified as a distraction from impact, and to find out how you can reshape and reframe your contribution to be central to the impact generation process.
Section 4: Planning for impact from media engagement
Planning for specific impacts you want to see from media engagement helps you identify media opportunities that are more likely to achieve these goals, and enables you to plan for evidence collection. The guide introduces a tool to make planning impacts from media engagement quick and easy.
Section 5: Media targeting for impact
Building on the planning tool from the previous guide, this guide introduces an additional tool to give you a sophisticated and holistic understanding of those you may want to engage with, and help prioritise the limited time available for impact generation activities, including towards hard-to-reach groups.
Section 8: Bringing researchers, press and research offices together
The final guide provides suggestions to enable press offices and professional services teams working on impact to collaborate more effectively, and considers how engaging more deeply with impact might motivate researchers to engage more with press offices
The Media Impact Toolkit was conceived of in discussions between Michael Parker, Membership Editor at The Conversation, and Mark Reed, director of Fast Track Impact and Professor of Socio-Technical Innovation at Newcastle University. It was written by Mark Reed, with input from Michael Parker and representatives from university communications teams and research offices via The Conversation's bi-annual Media Advisory Group, through which the issues the toolkit addresses were discussed. Many thanks to all those who took part in the process.
If you have questions regarding issues the toolkit raises for university communications teams, please contact Michael Parker, Membership Editor
To find out more about The Conversation, or to discuss joining as a member organisation please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the author, or for further information about Fast Track Impact, please contact Professor Mark Reed