Beyond the Journal: The science of communication

Effective communication requires evaluation

06 May 2019
As press officers we work hard to help research news reach broad audiences, but it’s easy to wonder “is my effort making any difference?”

By Ruth Francis

I certainly have days where it feels daunting to build relationships with reporters and to engage with international media. How do you know when your expertise and contributions justify the communications budget? And is it possible to measure impact in an insightful way? 

Effective communication requires evaluation. Regular assessment can reveal what drives coverage and engagement, as well as what influences reputation. This is powerful insight – it helps us rationalise how we spend our days, and highlights where we can develop our skills and improve results. 

Evaluation needs data, but here it is not purely about numbers. Quality is more valuable than quantity, whether for traditional or social media. One in-depth article in an outlet that is read by researchers or funders is more advantageous to your organisation than a smattering of brief news pieces. 

To achieve this, think about if your priority is to send the release to the widest possible net of reporters and achieving lots of aggregated articles, or hand-pick a few with whom you have built trusted relationships and see a couple of in-depth journalistic pieces as a result.

For some organisations, I research media outlets and determine which are the key audiences to target to achieve our communication goals. In past roles, colleagues and I agreed our aim was to increase awareness in a certain region, so we followed general science coverage there, gaining understanding before selecting which outlets to pitch.

And beyond simply evaluating the outcomes, take a look at the activity itself. How is the team performing and how confident do they feel about what they’re doing? What targets do we set ourselves as communicators? Assessing what we are doing well and what needs work can identify strengths and weaknesses; lessons from stronger areas can be applied to those that could be improved. Once we have assessed, we can develop our own skills and improve our own activities. 

Evaluation should not come as an afterthought. All communication should start with why. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can plan effectively, targeting press releases or researching the audiences on social media you think are key. Later on, you can measure how well you did against the plan you set at the start. 

It takes time, but measurement and review are paramount to improving our skills and demonstrating value. Asia Research News can help or advise – we offer regular news and social media monitoring services, as well as deeper analysis of communications activities and mentoring for teams and individuals. 

Ruth Francis is a communications expert with 20 years of experience working in academia and publishing, including Springer Nature, BioMed Central, Cancer Research UK and King's College London.