Getting the Best From Your Subject Matter Expert

Posted on Feb 17, 2020

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the brainy scientist in a stained lab coat, who can only speak in long complex sentences and struggles to explain her work to a layperson. Thankfully stereotypes are not reality… but the truth is it can be hard when you’re tasked with writing a story about a complex research that will engage an average reader. So what’s the best way to make the most of your professor, physician, engineer or researcher? Use these tips to make your journey as smooth as possible!

Interview them

Even if you have some knowledge, or even think you have a lot of knowledge about this topic, you won’t have nearly as much as your expert. It’s always a good idea to start from the beginning and do an old-school, informational interview. Find out how they got into this area, and why. Ask them to explain their science to you in their own words and make sure they tell you why it matters. Not just why it matters to them, but why it should matter to everyone. Write that down. Say it back to them as you interpret it. Guess what? There’s a good chance you got it wrong or missed more than just a nuance. So, do it again. And again until you really get it. Pro tip: record your interviews. That phonetic spelling of the new post-translational modification project you jotted in your notes? You’ll want to be able to go back and listen to it again.

Manage expectations

Dry, inaccessible topic? Unfortunately, a lot of science can be. But when it’s your job to make it accessible, you need to find a way to make it sexy. Whenever possible, try to let the science speak for itself. Unless your expert is Dr. Evil, most are doing this to better people’s lives. Keep that at the forefront of your mind at all times but do check yourself, and your expert throughout the process. While their research might well be groundbreaking, there’s a lot of noise out there to get through—make sure they understand the context in which you’re both operating.

Selling it

Once you’ve done everything you can to get the best story together, make a thorough plan of how and who to pitch. Draft your speaking points and be ready for questions. Why should this reporter/publication/journal care about this research? Is it relevant? Remember that not everything belongs in the Globe & Mail or New York Times! And that’s okay. Do your best, remembering that landing any story in the mainstream media is tough. Knowing your audience is important too. If this news is really oriented towards industry experts, pitch trade publications and associations. But, be sure to keep your expert up to speed on your plan. Even better, ask them to help. Maybe they have an editorial contact that would help? Mine your contacts and dig deep!

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Set your expert up for success in media outreach. Find out when they are free and how to get a hold of them. If your expert isn’t the most dynamic of speakers, participate in the interview with them so that you can keep things moving and liven up the conversation. Spend a few minutes before the interview sharing key points and phrases for them to turn to if they get stuck. Don’t be afraid to insert yourself in the interview to clarify or steer the conversation in the direction you want, and follow-up after. Part of your job is to highlight the science and get the right message out there. Offer to email the reporter the correct spelling of the research, scientist’s name and title, etc. Make it as easy as possible for them to do their job, and you’ll be rewarded.

If you’re unsure about the newsworthiness of your story, or how to manage the media – we can help. We are experts (not to brag) in the science communication field.

Don’t worry about having to breakdown your research into layman’s terms for us – At PR Associates, there is no learning curve because health and science communication is all we do. We have over 20 years of experience developing scientific and health research into newsworthy strategic stories.

Book a spot in my calendar and let’s talk about building awareness of your research today.

At PR Associates, there is no learning curve because health and science communication is all we do. As experts and seamless extensions of your team, we use science storytelling to clarify complexity, capture imaginations, shift mindsets, and stimulate investment interest.

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