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How your communications people can help you get the word out

One of the often-overlooked tools in the arsenal of university-based researchers are your institutional communications teams. This can happen for a variety of reasons:


· Your research doesn’t align with the university’s strategic research goals/emphases;

· A lack of advertising on the part of the communications teams/officers;

· A lack of confidence in the newsworthiness of your research;

· Anecdotes from others of bad experiences.


Regardless of the why’s, and whether we’re talking about department, faculty, school, institution-level people, these groups are a great resource to tap when finding ways to get your research in front of the right audience with the right message. Here are some ways university comms folks can help you.


Communications planning, implementation, and management


At the highest level, experienced communicators can help you figure where and how best to communicate your messages. They are experts in the field of successfully getting ideas from out of the university-sphere and into your local, national, and international communities.

Your communicators can help you formulate an overall plan that will define:


· Purpose;

· Outcomes;

· Key audiences;

· Key messages;

· Tactics;

· Budget; (even if it is zero)

· Timelines;

· And perhaps most importantly, key indicators of success.


Starting with these will help direct where else your communicators can help you, and can lean on their experiences and connections to facilitate next steps.


Once formulated, they can help, in varying degrees, get the deliverable communications off the ground, or at least help you figure out the most efficient (and cost-effective) way to get the plan going.


Finally, they can help you debrief when the plan has run its course, to see where you succeeded and where pain points may have occurred, so that next plan, those can be circumvented or accounted for.


Connecting you with media and communities


One of the simplest ways for comms people to help is to get you connected with media. They can help throw stories to institutional and external news sources, or help you establish a rapport with specific media people so that you become a go-to for opinions/perspectives in your field of expertise.


Because of the (varied) general focus of university comms staff, they also have access to many diverse communities and may be able to connect you with new groups of people/communities who could benefit from your research.


While obviously these are not a sure thing, it helps if you have media training.


Media training and best practices


Most communications teams are more than happy to help you get interview and media training. This helps everyone involved:


· Researchers get more comfortable, competent and confident behind a camera;

· Newsmakers get quality content for their viewers

· The university’s gets to showcase their competencies and the successes of their researchers.


Outside of media training, your comms folk will also often provide guides, templates and resources for researchers to learn other communications methods and techniques on their own schedules/needs. These run from general to university-specific but are always helpful steps for researchers looking to learn best practices.


Where to from here?


So now that we know what your comms team can do for you, where do you start? Well, quite simply, if you want to start today, just go ask. Most comms people I know want love to learn about what’s cooking or what’s ready to come to the table and are ready to help in any way they can.


If you don’t have anything ready to throw out to the world, you don’t have to wait until you do. Make a new friend and just let them know you are available. Communications folks are always looking for folks who are ready and willing, regardless of research focus.

So, get yourself out there! Introduce yourself to your communications team, today!


Will Kinchlea Communications and Systems Coordinator Western Research Western University




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