Section 8: Topic 2
Increasing researcher engagement
Despite the enthusiasm for increased engagement between press office and professional services impact teams, there was a recognition across those surveyed that researchers often do not engage with press opportunities. While there were good reasons for avoiding press coverage under certain circumstances (see Guide 1), a number of suggestions were made to increase researcher engagement with both press offices and professional services teams around media engagement pathways to impact.
One of the most important points is the suggestion that press offices get involved earlier in the research cycle, to feed into how research and pathways to impact are designed, so that media engagement is more closely matched to research and impact aims (rather than retrofitted, or seen as an “add-on”). To make this possible, it may be worth scheduling face-to-face meetings with key researchers (identified with impact professional services teams) to discuss the potential benefits of media engagement for their specific pathways to impact (including those with impact potential as well as track record to avoid biasing attention to more senior academics).
Other suggestions for increasing research engagement with media work included:
A demonstrable, strong evidence base of how media engagement has helped their peers in a meaningful way.
Discuss benefits for career progression, particularly with early-career researchers, in partnership with academics whose careers have benefited from media exposure.
Training for researchers based on evidence of impacts arising from media engagement.
Re-frame the offering from press offices (in collaboration with professional media colleagues) as “press release plus impact data gathering for REF”.
Work more intensively with academics with roles linked to impact (e.g. Director of Impact or Impact Champion) to explore the potential value of media engagement for impact in their group and make training opportunities more visible to their colleagues.
Meeting with press officer as part of induction for all new researchers to build a relevant biography for the university website and/or expert database(s) to make them more visible to the media, and use the meeting to understand training needs and offer opportunities to learn.
The researcher who suggested face-to-face meetings with press officers during induction commented that “through this they can each learn about each other, and be better placed to engage with the media in future”. Another researcher wanted press teams to “show a genuine interest in the researcher and [be] explicit about how they can help”.
Drawing on their experience working with researchers on impact, colleagues from professional services talked about how they would “show that you're interested in their research by attending events/lectures/seminars where they are presenting”. Another suggested “it's all about building good trusting relationships and demonstrating effectiveness - then word gets out.” Another still suggested that their success in engaging with researchers around impact came from “putting themselves in the researchers' shoes”. Although these suggestions may not be realistic for already over-stretched press offices, they illustrate a growing appetite for increased engagement with press teams around impact and an emphasis on relationship building as a way to achieve this. This echoed the emphasis on early and ongoing engagement with researchers in Table 4, and calls for increased interaction and collaboration between press and professional services teams elsewhere in the survey. One researcher commented, “I think as a starter there needs to be more coming together. On my own campus, I'd like to see an afternoon set aside to get us both in the room to talk about impact. I would also like to see a bigger role for 'third space' academics [people who work between academic and professional domains] in media offices. My own institution primarily employs perky new grads who dream of journalism careers - they're lovely, but impact is not likely to be something they can 'get' naturally.” One member of professional services summed up the emphasis on engagement and relationship-building succinctly: “Keep talking, get to know each other, the usual stuff - but it works.”