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A Few Media Relations Tips for CS Professors. What do a lot of people fear most? Public speaking of course! NOW enter a reporter, or maybe a TV camera that’s pointed at YOU and yes IT’S NERVEWRACKING! Here are a few tips that may help to prepare you….

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a few media relations tips for cs professors
A Few Media Relations Tips for CS Professors

What do a lot of people fear most?

Public speaking of course!


enter a reporter, or maybe a TV camera that’s pointed at YOU and yes


Here are a few tips that may help to prepare you…

by G.Mavor, CMNS Coordinator 2006

media relations tips but first is it safe
Media Relations TipsBut first. Is it safe?
  • Ensure that you are not speaking to the media before your intellectual property has been protected.
  • Check with the UBC University Industry Liaison Office to determine what you need to do about that if in doubt.
  • Check with any industry/academic collaborators before speaking to the media to ensure they’re fine with it.
media relations tips what s the story angle
Media Relations TipsWhat’s the story angle?
  • Make sure you clearly understand the ANGLE of what the reporter’s story truly is. This might be the single most important thing you can do for a potentially good interview; one that reflects your knowledge well.
  • Repeat back what you think they want from you to clarify that you’re actually on the same page.
  • Prepare to speak to that angle only. It can make the difference of a quote that is informative making you look like the intelligent person that you are, or words that seem inane and don’t educate.
media relations tips quotable quotes and analogies
Media Relations TipsQuotable “Quotes” and Analogies
  • Try and come up with an analogy before the interview that helps describe your research or current project. Test it out on a friend who is not in computer science. If they don’t get it, keep doing it until you hit upon one that works to really help aid their comprehension. This isn’t always possible or desirable for everything, obviously.
  • Come up with an “engaging” quote or two (about your ongoing research) before you ever need to use them. Try to think of quotes for print media versus TV/radio. Make sure they are as short as possible for TV/radio.
media relations tips the boy scouts got it right so can you
Media Relations TipsThe Boy Scouts got it right. So can you!

Be Prepared! Be Prepared! Be Prepared!

  • This is your “cold call” to the unwashed masses. Because of their very specialized knowledge, professors often assume a higher level of knowledge than is actual in others. It’s better to assume zero knowledge. Then, keep explanations as straightforward as possible. And, get to the point with pithy, controversial, interestingly worded sentences (somehow).
  • Got your pitch? Good. Now make it even shorter! You will probably need help figuring out the best one, or if there truly is a viable way to “package” your message for the media. I’ll be happy to help figure that out with you.
  • Write down a few key messages about your topic/research/project that you want to get across in the interview.
media relations tips
Media Relations Tips

Be Even More Prepared!

  • Ask yourself why “Joe Public” should care about what you want to tell them. If you can’t answer that convincingly then mass media probably won’t care about whatever it is that matters so critically to you.
  • Put your story into an appropriate context to frame your explanation. Don’t assume that people know the current “status” or “history”of whatever technology or science you are speaking about. It’s your job to incorporate that history into your explanation (if it’s important to the explanation.)
  • Ask yourself, is it the first time, is it the last time, is it a new invention, will it impact ways of doing things in some small or large way? Is it weird or unusual in some way?
  • Has it got some connection to a current hot topic in the media (i.e. mining, emergency preparedness, new wireless devices, whatever the flavour of the day is). If you notice a possibility, tell me right then. This won’t matter within a week of first seeing the initial story in the New York Times or The Globe.
media relations tips tell them tell them what you told them tell them again
Media Relations TipsTell them! Tell them what you told them! Tell them again!
  • If the word is scientific and critical to your explanation (which, of course, is so often the case in science) use the scientific word, then explain it in simple language immediately following.
  • Say in full, any acronym that is typically used in your field. Try not to use acronyms at all. The only exceptions are those internationally recognized ones such as NASA that you can guess most of the world will be familiar with.
media relations tips for the record
Media Relations TipsFor the Record…
  • There is no such thing as “off the record” to a reporter. If you don’t want them to use it, don’t say it! If they’re reputable they may interrupt you and say, “If I can’t use it, I don’t want to hear it.” It’s hard, based on the non-controversial media coverage we get that this will ever come up, but hey, you never know.
  • No comment! Please, especially if you are ever approached by a television camera, do not use these two words together ever. It will make you look very silly. Say something more like, I’m not the right person to speak to that. I’m sorry I don’t have knowledge of that. Anything but “no comment! (Also incredibly unlikely to come up for you but I thought I’d mention it)
media relations tips9
Media Relations Tips

If you’re going to be interviewed on TV

  • Wear bold, single-colored clothing on top and stay away from patterns. (You’re not the weatherman:-)
  • Try to think of it as a conversation, not an “interview”. That puts the focus on the content, not you, and may take off some pressure.
  • Speak at a moderate pace. Be yourself. Be friendly. Reporters, especially related to technology, aren’t looking for dirt, they’re looking for insights/predictions.
media relations tips10
Media Relations Tips

You are being interviewed for a reason

  • You will be doing yourself and the reporter a favour if you feel there are better questions they could ask. Find a way to pose them yourself and then answer them. If they seem like they’re missing the mark in their questions, take control in a friendly way.
  • Reporters want the most current, the most unique information they can get for their story; something no other outlet has reported.
  • Being a reporter is like going fishing. The better the quote, the better the interview, the better the “catch” or story. That’s why it’s to your advantage to come up with a great quote that explains something about your story. It makes a reporter’s job so much easier. It makes it more likely you will not get cut from the story.
media relations tips11
Media Relations Tips

Yes, the deadline is today!

  • Always ask when the reporter’s deadline is once they need you to get back to them. Deadlines are critical and daily.
  • The interview is in the wings. It’s a great story. The Prof says, “Yes I’ll do it”. Next day. Phone rings. Reporter wants Prof. Prof forgot to tell PR person they were going away for a month and didn’t leave contact info for their flying/conference days.
  • Your whereabouts and availability are critical once the story is a go. In a “big” story, one day of lost whereabouts can matter.
media relations tips12
Media Relations Tips
  • Asking to see a story before publishing (although understandable from your point of view) marks you as naïve about journalism. If the reporter is unsure of some technical jargon, (and if they are smart), they may choose to run those parts of it by you. Otherwise, yes, life is risk. Academics write in a style that is not conducive to journalism. Journalists, therefore, do not want to “risk” that your edits will make their story untenable to the general public. And, they have deadlines to meet.
  • However, don’t hesitate to let me or the reporter you talked to know when they have incorrectly represented your research or a quote that was significant. It should not be ignored. It can be fixed in a later publication if it warrants it.
  • Canada needs more scientists who can explain the significance of the science they’re working on. It may be worth getting experience with the media if you’re up for it. That depends, of course, on your own personal philosophy.
media relations tips what do i want to hear about
Media Relations TipsWhat Do I want to hear about?
  • Telling me about the awards you and/or your students win is nice (and it’s easy). Keep doing that. But, what makes for real stories that I’m more interested in are things that are “in the works” such as new industry collaborations, new research directions, new projects, grants. I’m interested in your opinion on the hot topics in technology. I’m interested in new developments in your research even when nothing has happened yet that’s tangible. Research, in the process of unfolding, can be news all on its own.
  • Telling me about something that happened 3 months ago is not news. It’s history. I can put history on our Awards Page for the Department record. But, I can’t do anything else with it.
media relations tips14
Media Relations Tips

Publicity has no place in your reality.

You have no time. You have too much work. You don’t think of the media at all. In comparison to everything else, attempting to even think about the types of things these slides suggest must seem laughable to you.

Why would you bother?

You might not. It’s your personal decision.

  • But publicity is another form of education.
  • Publicity can lead to collaborations with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.
  • Publicity can inspire a high school student to take a course that could lead to them choosing CS.
  • Publicity can be seen by funders and parents of students.
  • Publicity can reach thousands of people bringing your research and the Department into their consciousness.
  • Finally, no matter how self-actualized you are, it’s always exciting to see your name and/or photo in the news.
media relations tips15
Media Relations Tips
  • If you are approached by a media outlet directly, through a telephone call and you do an interview, I would really appreciate hearing about it. Why? Because it then lets me know what sorts of things the media are asking about in relation to computer science. What they are interested in.
  • It could also mean me making a connection between a slightly different version of the story they had in mind based on the expertise that I know exists here that they know nothing about. (To be clear, I’m referring to full interviews or stories. I don’t expect Richard Rosenberg, Ron Rensink or Alan Mackworth to tell me every time a media outlet contacts them for a quote.)
media relations tips16
Media Relations Tips

Who are you?

For the purpose of all media interviews that arise from our Department, regardless of your many other scientific associations, I would please ask that you describe yourself as a professor in the:

UBC Department of Computer Science

Repetition and consistency breed familiarity “out there” in the world. It’s important that our Department is described with a single consistent title which is:

UBC Department of Computer Science

If you ever have questions about the potential of a research project to get some publicity, please ask me. Set up an appointment, call me at 822-1440 or gmavor@cs.ubc.ca

And, just so you know, getting publicity for computer science is hard. It’s an exception, not a regular event.

Just ask your colleagues, internationally!:-) Good Luck!