Media engagement is increasingly overlooked as a way of generating significant impacts from research, with many researchers now preferring more targeted stakeholder engagement strategies that can provide evidence of significant benefits (i.e. impacts) beyond the academy. However, media engagement has the potential to generate significant impacts in highly targeted ways, and when it does, it also provides mechanisms for extending and evidencing levels of reach that dwarf many alternative pathways to impact.
Media engagement doesn’t have to be a scatter-gun approach. It is possible to build a compelling impact plan that harnesses the power of the media to reach those who need the most help, as well as those with the power and influence to make change happen at scale. By engaging early in the research cycle, it becomes possible to create more compelling content, build relationships and identify opportunities adaptively, creating well designed pathways to impact and collecting evidence of impact along the way.
Media engagement is also a great way to build profile and become “impact ready”, leading to new contacts and opportunities for impact that could not have been foreseen. There is a category of impacts, often referred to as “serendipitous impacts”, but there is nothing serendipitous about the fact that most of the impacts started with a researcher who was in the right place at the right time. Those researchers may not have been the leading experts in their field, but they knew enough to be able to help someone, and they were available and approachable. Engagement with mass media and social media puts researchers at the centre of events, connecting them to people and opportunities that would otherwise go to others.
Whether we harness the media in a highly targeted plan, or just to be impact-ready, it is important to think about what happens next. This usually involves steps in the pathway to impact that no longer involve the media, and we need to identify and facilitate these steps too. The good news is that press offices are not alone in this. There are growing teams of professional services staff working on impact across the UK, who are specialists in the collection of data to prove the significance of impacts arising from multiple forms of engagement. Working together, it is possible to increase our capacity for supporting impact, and in so doing, enable all of our work to make a difference.