Communications Handbook for Clinical Trials: Strategies, tips, and tools to manage controversy, convey your message, and disseminate results


Working with the Media

Media coverage can shape public opinion about a clinical trial and about medical research in general (Grimes 1999). Scientific research about HIV and other infectious diseases is often newsworthy, so you should expect media interest in your trial. In today’s globalized world, a small story in a local paper can quickly escalate into national and international coverage through Web sites, online media, international television, and new social media formats. Similarly, international news is instantly available at the community level, where it can contribute to knowledge or cause confusion, concern, and misinterpretation.

The media can also influence funders, policymakers, and ethics review committees. Accurate media coverage of an issue can educate and inform potential participants and partners, bolster public support for your trial, and advance the public health agenda. Inaccurate or inflammatory news coverage, on the other hand, can spread rumors, sideline research, and even scare government officials away from approving research that might attract controversy.

Your overall communications strategy (see Chapter 3) should include a component that describes how you plan to work with the media before, during, and after completion of your trial. It is important to build relationships of trust with key members of the media and to understand their role in translating science to the public.

IUnderstanding the media

At CAPRISA we involve the media in whatever we are doing, so the media can be one way of disseminating information. We know that if you don’t involve the media, it may be difficult for you. They might think that you are hiding something… What can I say? Bad stories sell better. People like to read bad stories.

You have to involve them from the beginning. They have to understand what is happening. What is happening when these people enroll in this study? What drug is being tested? How is it going to be conducted? They have to have correct information.

—Mukelisiwe Mlotshwa, Research Nurse, CAPRISA, Vulindlela, South Africa

Most people—be they politicians, policymakers, funders, or trial participants—get much of their news and information from the popular press. An understanding of how the media operates is the first step to learning how to communicate clearly and effectively with journalists. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that the reports about your research will be accurate and informative, and it helps to frame the public discussion in a constructive way (Kampen 2000).

Guideline 1. Researchers and journalists have different goals. Journalists need to come up with stories that will grab public interest and often must publish them within days, if not hours. Researchers ask a question and typically spend years systematically looking for evidence—possibly finding an inconclusive answer. As a scientist, you can help journalists meet their needs and yours by helping them write accurate stories about your trial. (See Box 9.1)

Effective media relations begin with understanding the goals and limitations of journalism. Professional journalists are bound by:

  • Autonomy (journalistic independence)
  • Media deadlines, extreme time pressures
  • The use of multiple sources for balanced reporting
  • A need to attribute facts and quotes
  • A need to check the facts
  • A need for information to be condensed
  • Competition among media—they need to be first with the news or get an exclusive

There are many reasons why the press may want to talk to you. For example:

  • They need background information on a subject.
  • You work on issues that are currently making the news.
  • They need to quote an expert to add credibility to their story.
  • They are looking for details about a crisis situation related to your organization (Hurt 2004).
  • They may even want to write a negative story and use your comments to legitimize their perspective.

Why you may want to talk to the press

Media play a critical role in your communications efforts. Responsible journalists, like responsible scientists, take their role very seriously. Scientists and journalists both seek knowledge and want to communicate their findings to the public.

Journalists can help scientists:

  • Demonstrate the benefits of particular public health policies
  • Encourage health policymakers to take new data into account when revising practice guidelines
  • Reassure the public and address rumors (Shepherd 2005)
  • Increase community access to information on health innovations
  • Encourage community members to participate in a study or health program
  • Articulate obstacles to health services
  • Model healthy behaviors such as responsible parenthood (Smith 1995)
  • Spur greater allocation of funds or government support for research on the topic you study

For these reasons, researchers should look for opportunities to work with the news media.

Guideline 2. Scientists can help to frame stories about clinical research. All stories are “framed” in a particular way. When a journalist writes a story, he or she takes a particular angle and frames the story to reflect certain themes. For example, a story about research on childhood immunizations could have a public health frame (immunizations save lives), an exploitation frame (outsiders are experimenting on our children), or an economic frame (preventing illness saves money in the long run).

Remember that how you frame a story should be grounded in reality. Learning how to frame a story is a valuable skill, but if your frame is merely spin—telling the story in a one-sided way to promote yourself or some agenda—your story will lose steam fast. For example, if your highly anticipated study results show that a promising new vaccine did not work, professional reporters will see through efforts to frame the results in a positive light.

Be aware of the underlying narrative in media coverage about the health issue you are studying. Position yourself so that you can guide journalists toward frames that will help them portray your study accurately, while satisfying media criteria for newsworthiness (see Box 9.4).

Guideline 3. Be alert for negative coverage. Pay attention to the emotional content—especially fear, anger, skepticism, or dread—of recent media coverage on your research subject. For example, if you were about to begin a trial and saw this quote in a local paper, consider how it would affect your approach to the local media:

“The prostitutes of Cameroon live like dogs, but some of them have been offered something that’s worse: the life of a laboratory rat, without much compensation, without much explanation, and, above all, without any guarantee that they’ll come out of it alive or at any rate as healthy as they were before they were recruited (Ramazzotti 2005).”

The exploitation frame employed by this reporter plays on readers’ emotions and sense of outrage. The specific messages conveyed are that research is inherently exploitative, and that voluntary participation in clinical trials among vulnerable populations is impossible (Mack and others 2010).

To counter a negative frame, one must address the audience’s underlying feelings, while providing an alternative perspective. You might point out, for example, that scientists who are dedicated to improving public health are working with the community to prevent HIV and save lives among those most affected by the pandemic.

Guideline 4. Reporters can be important sources for scientists. Although scientists can be sources for reporters, sometimes the roles are reversed. You can glean important information by paying attention to the questions that reporters ask.

Whenever I do media trainings with our researchers, I prepare our team to answer questions in the context of what’s happening currently in our field. For example, when we released trial results just after the former South African Health Minister passed away, we anticipated that media would ask questions about this timely event. We prepared messages that linked her legacy to the need for ongoing HIV research, allowing us to respond to current events while staying focused on our key messages about the study results.

—Will Mapham, Communications and Advocacy Director, Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit, the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

For example, if a reporter starts probing about rumors that blood draws (such as samples taken for HIV tests) are being sold or used for satanic rituals, it could prompt you to explore whether similar ideas are circulating in the community where you are recruiting participants. Likewise, if a reporter’s question indicates confusion about basic scientific concepts, it can alert you to pay special attention to explaining those concepts clearly in future interviews with local reporters, as well as in discussions with community stakeholders.

By speaking with reporters on a regular basis, you can stay current on what the media are paying attention to. Their questions often reflect society’s latest interests and trends. You can strengthen your communications by adapting your key messages to address issues or draw comparisons to topics that are of interest to reporters.

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IIDeveloping a media strategy

Your media strategy addresses how and when you deliver your key messages and other information to members of the press. A media strategy is just one part of the overall communications plan for a trial (see Chapter 3). Your media strategy will:

  • Identify how you plan to involve news media before, during, and after the trial, and which approaches you plan to use (see Box 9.6).
  • Outline standard operating procedures (SOPs) for interactions with the media (see section III of this chapter for more on media SOPs).
  • Identify key messages to convey to different types of media.
  • Specify plans for monitoring media coverage.
  • Outline processes to respond to misinformation in media coverage.
  • Establish when to proactively seek news coverage.

To develop a media strategy:

Step 1. You need to know how the people you might want to reach receive information. Reviewing your environmental scan should provide you with this information and can inform your media strategy. You should seek to answer the following questions:

  • How do most people in your trial community get news—from local sources (such as newspapers or community radio shows) or from other media outlets (such as national or international television news)?
  • Which newspaper do national policymakers read?
  • Do international advocates who follow your study rely on Internet blogs and postings for updates?

Step 2. Identify health journalists and keep an updated media list. Identifying the journalists who write about issues relevant to your trial is very important. To do so:

  • Read the local and national newspapers, and take note of which journalists cover health and related issues.
  • Review the journalists and media outlets in your stakeholders’ lists and identify any gaps.
  • Identify local radio and television reporters who cover health issues on their shows.

Step 3. Know which media outlets can best address your communications goals. For example, if you want to update policymakers, a national newspaper may be the best way to spread your message. On the other hand, if you are targeting young people, you may be better off approaching a television program or an Internet source. To reach a rural community in local languages, you might try grassroots media (see Box 9.8). Consult Box 9.6 for general guidance on what type of media approach might be best suited for a particular situation.

Step 4. Adapt your media strategy to each milestone in your study. Your media strategy will vary at different stages in your study. For example, the team may decide to post a press statement on your Web site for your study launch. The same team may implement a broader, more proactive media outreach effort to announce trial results, including contacting key media allies one-on-one or hosting a press conference.

Respect local circumstances when deciding on media strategies. For multisite and network-sponsored studies, remember that different sites may share a communications plan but decide on different media strategies. Coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with partners throughout the process—not only when you respond to a crisis.

Adapt your materials to fit your strategy—not the other way around. For example, if your site decides to invite local-language media to visit your site, make sure you have materials in the local language that are ready and available for them.

Step 5. Choose your messengers wisely. We trust news from people we identify with—make sure to use the right spokespeople for each audience and each situation.

Take context into account. In many circumstances, the site spokesperson can deliver a statement and talk with media directly. However, there may be times when it is most appropriate for an announcement to come directly from the sponsor or the trial’s principal investigator, who may not be based at your site.

Recruit third-party spokespeople who have high-level standing in the community or who are unusual sources, so that people pay attention.

Step 6. Incorporate media monitoring. Monitoring the media coverage of your study and of the field in which you work is an essential element of any media strategy. (See Box 9.9 for a sample media monitoring grid or download the template.)

Each site should establish a process for tracking, monitoring, and sharing media coverage.

Monitor relevant local, national, and international media daily. Delegate someone to track information about the field in general, not only your study or specific area of research. Remember that all trials can affect each other, particularly if negative media coverage appears.

Keep in mind that editorials and letters to the editor are among the most often read sections of newspapers. If a highly inaccurate or negative piece is published, consider responding directly or ask colleagues with credibility in public health circles to do so.

Monitor a variety of sources, including list servers, social networking sites, and blogs. Ask close colleagues who read this type of media to alert you to any coverage of your trial. Although these sources generally have lower circulation than other types of media, inaccuracies can still circulate and spread misconceptions about your study.

Radio and TV can be challenging to monitor. At times, media interviews are only used days after being recorded, or they can be used multiple times for different stories. Whenever possible, try to get the full transcript or recording. This will assist in situations that may require a response, especially if you think you were misquoted.

To monitor international coverage of related research, consider setting up a Google News Alert (see Box 9.11). Subscribing to high-quality news digests, such as the Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, is another option for people with regular Internet access.

Your team should intensify monitoring efforts during times of announcements or major events in the field. Some days, few articles appear in the press, and the monitoring only takes a few minutes. However, when results are released, the press may be filled with stories about your trial or relevant trials. During these times, you should consider assigning more than one person to the task of monitoring media and pointing out inaccuracies. Another increasingly common option is to hire a local media firm to coordinate these efforts.

The local staff can be an invaluable resource in the effort to track coverage. For example, one clinical trial site investigator kept hearing about articles her staff had noticed in the newspaper. She implemented a policy that anyone who saw an article about the study should buy a copy of the newspaper, get a receipt, and bring both in for reimbursement. By offering to reimburse people, staff members became willing to bring in articles. This helped the study to improve its media monitoring efforts.

Learn about the news cycle—the amount of time between the release of editions from a news outlet. The most common example of a news cycle is the daily newspaper, which is typically released early each morning. That 24-hour period between daily editions constitutes a news cycle. Pay attention to reprinted articles or the dissemination of adaptations of previously distributed material. Although a newspaper or radio story might originally appear in one source, it will likely travel to other sources if it is a compelling piece. For example, a story in a local newspaper may eventually show up in national newspapers, radio, television, or the Internet. This kind of redistribution occurs with both positive and negative coverage.

Respond to inaccuracies in the media, as needed. If you find inaccurate coverage of your trial in the media, contact the source and politely correct the information, without being condescending or defensive. Ask them to print a correction; if the article is online, have them remove any inaccurate information from their Web site.

Correcting information in a professional manner will help establish a relationship between you and the media source. Eventually, the journalist may start going directly to your research team for information.

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IIIResponding to media requests

Your team should establish a basic protocol for handling media inquiries. Some teams may find it helpful to create a media SOP to make sure that the staff handles media inquiries in a consistent manner (see Appendix 9.2). Other teams may prefer to have a less formal policy regarding media inquiries.

Keep the following things in mind when developing your media SOP:

  • Designate one or two site-level staff members to handle all media inquiries. Identify a back-up person for times when the designated staff members are not available.
  • Assign roles and responsibilities to those who will be responsible for interacting with the media. List the steps that the administrative staff should take if a reporter calls. Decide whether the designated contact staff member or spokesperson will schedule media interviews. Determine who will facilitate interviews with external allies and third-party experts when journalists ask for sources they can contact.
  • Clarify your site’s policy on media interviews with trial participants and Community Advisory Board members and your position on allowing reporters to access the site for tours.
  • Create a checklist of questions to ask journalists. This short list should help the spokesperson gather relevant information about the reporter and the article to be written, such as the name of the publication, details about the interview, and the deadline. In some cases, the spokesperson may want this information before agreeing to commit to an interview.

  • Use Google to find out information about the journalist. Google is a good tool to help you find out some quick background about the journalist and his or her publication. By conducting a simple search, you can often find articles the journalist has written, the reputation of their publication, and other relevant details (see Box 9.13).

Once you have written your SOP for media requests, put it into action whenever requests come in.

Brief the spokesperson. If the person who handles media inquiries is not the official spokesperson, make sure that he or she provides background information about the journalist to the spokesperson.

Inform the sponsor or network communications team about media inquiries. Determine whether your site has a protocol in place that explains when to notify network- or sponsor-level communications staff members. Some sponsors want to be informed when international journalists contact a site, whereas others may wish to be notified about all media inquiries.

Learn the lingo. Just as scientists have a specialized vocabulary, journalists have a language of their own. Knowing some of this terminology can help you communicate with reporters, especially when they call with a request for a quick “sound bite” or ask you to speak “off the record.” (See Box 9.14) If you do not fully understand what the journalist is saying, ask for a clarification before you respond.

There are times when a reporter may catch you off guard, for example at an event or conference. If a reporter asks to interview you, do not feel pressured to do the interview at that time. To manage an impromptu encounter:

  • Determine the journalist’s deadline and see whether you can arrange to be interviewed at another time, even if only 20 minutes later, so that you have time to organize your thoughts.
  • Identify the topic of the story.
  • Ask if the reporter has conducted any other interviews and with whom.
  • Take some time to organize your thoughts and jot down your key messages.
  • If possible, talk to others whom the reporter has interviewed and find out what questions the journalist asked.

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IVGetting your message across

Several techniques can help you convey your message even when you are asked a difficult question. In these situations, take a deep breath and remember that you are the expert and that you alone control what you say (see Chapter 7). The following strategies can help you stay on message:

Bridging. Bridging is the use of a transitional phrase that allows you to move the direction of the interview into your territory. Bridging words include: and, but, however, in fact, for example, because, and on the other hand. The following sentences provide some examples of the bridging technique:

  • “That may have been true in the past; however, this is the way we are doing it today . . .”
  • “We are very committed to involving people with HIV/AIDS in Community Advisory Boards. In fact, in the trial X, nearly half of our CAB was made up of HIV-positive women.”
  • “This new trial will break new ground in the field. For example . . .”

ABC technique. This technique builds on the bridging technique and can help you change the direction of the interview without completely ignoring the tough questions being asked. To use this technique, follow these three steps:

  • Answer the premise of the question.
  • Bridge to the most important issues.
  • Communicate key messages.

By addressing the question even briefly, you will help move the interview on to other topics—where you guide it. (See Box 9.15 for an illustration of how to use this technique.)

Flagging. Flagging uses phrases that emphasize the importance of your messages. They tell the reporter—your audience—what should be highlighted.

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VBeing interviewed by the media

An interview is not a conversation. It is an opportunity to deliver a carefully crafted message about your work. Preparation is essential.

Prepare for interviews ahead of time.

  • Familiarize yourself with the journalist and the media outlet. Do some research to learn about the other news stories the journalist has written for print, radio, or television (see Box 9.13).
  • Determine the format of the interview. If you are doing a radio and TV interview, find out whether the interview will be done live or recorded, and how long it will be. Short, live interviews do not allow for any retakes, while longer interviews that are recorded can be edited and, therefore, can be much more forgiving.
  • Know your key messages. Be prepared to reiterate these messages in as many answers as you can. Briefly respond to the question, then bridge to your key message (see Chapter 7).
  • Know what you want to say in advance, and prepare compelling quotes. Reporters look for quotes from scientists that summarize the impact of a research finding or policy decision and why it is important. Describe in short sentences what is at stake. Explain in easy-to-understand language what this discovery means for our understanding of the disease, the causal agent, and public health.
  • Do a mock interview with a colleague. Being able to practice your message before the interview can boost your confidence and help you feel prepared to answer any question that may come your way.
  • Check the news to make sure you know about any late-breaking events that might affect your remarks.

Give a clear and memorable interview.

Media training is important, and as scientists, we don’t have enough of it. During the Phambili HIV vaccine trial, a colleague sat with me and grilled me about the details of the study. It was incredibly helpful. The questions she asked me were far harder than those really asked by journalists, so I felt prepared when it came time to talk to a reporter. Training and support of scientists is important, and individual coaching is incredibly useful.

—By Dr. Glenda Gray, MBBCH, FCP, Co-director, Perinatal HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

  • Be direct. Keep your answers short, simple, and to the point.
  • Do not use jargon or acronyms. Describe your project in language that anyone can understand. Assume that the reporter and his or her audience know very little about clinical trials.
  • Use active language. “More than 3,000 women participated in the study” is stronger than “The study had more than 3,000 women.” Drop the passive language and make your language move with active verbs.
  • Stay professional. Your undisciplined remark can and will make news. If you do misspeak or have an outburst, deal with it immediately. You might say, “Let me clarify that . . . ” Always appear confident and friendly. Never become angry or attack a reporter who is asking you questions. It is his or her job to dig for an interesting story.
  • Stay honest. Bluffing, exaggerating, or lying is a recipe for disaster. Do not say more than what you had planned. If you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to, you can say, “That is a very important question, but not within my area of expertise. What I can say is…” You can also suggest another source who may be able to respond to the question, or offer to find out and get back to the reporter.
  • Represent your organization. Make sure that what you say is your organization’s public position.
  • Avoid accepting or confirming a negative question. For example:
    Q: “Don’t you care about whether the women become HIV-positive?”
    This question implies that the questioner suspects you might not care. Negative questions are often asked when a negative answer is suspected. They are used to seek confirmation and agreement.
    A: “The safety and well-being of the women who volunteer for trials is our top priority. That is why we are conducting this HIV prevention research.”
  • Remember that the microphone or camera is always on. Do not use the phrases “no comment” or “off the record.” If you do not want to see it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper, then you probably should not say it.
  • Talk to your audience, even if you cannot see them. If you are doing a radio interview in a studio or you are talking into a telephone and have never met the interviewer, stay animated and engaged with the conversation. People can “hear” a smile as well as a yawn.
  • Pay attention to body language. Much of your message is conveyed through body language, emotional tone, and attitude. Therefore, it is important to know when smiling is appropriate, and to avoid appearing smug, arrogant, defensive, or negative.

Follow up with the reporter. This is just as important as performing well during the interview. After an interview, you should:

  • Send the reporter an e-mail, thanking her or him for the opportunity to talk about your study and offering to help clarify any remaining questions. Be sure to include your contact information.
  • Report back to your communications team. Send a brief summary of the interview to the person on your communications team who is keeping track of media coverage. Include the reporter’s contact information, any lessons learned from this interview, or tough questions you were unprepared to answer.
  • Send news clips to the study coordinator, communications person, or principal investigator when the article is published. Consider sharing media clips with external stakeholders, such as donors.

React quickly to inaccurate information. This is critical, regardless of the type or size of the media outlet. If you do not address inaccuracies, the same misinformation may continue to resurface in unexpected places.

To correct inaccuracies:

  • Call the reporter or editor to request a correction. Online journals can be changed almost immediately. When you find a mistake in an online version of an article written for newspapers or magazines, contact the journalist quickly to request that the article be revised for purposes of accuracy before it goes to print. If it is printed, ask the journalist to print a correction in the next publication.
  • Prioritize your corrections. If the article has more than a few inaccuracies, consider selecting the most important factual errors and highlight only those to the journalist. Many journalists will respond to a few errors but may choose to ignore a long list of things to change.
  • Write a letter to the editor, or post a comment if the publication is online. Letters to the editor are typically among the most read items in a newspaper. When responding to misinformation, do not repeat the inaccuracy in your letter. Take a positive tone, and keep your letter short—about 150 words if possible. (See Appendix 9.3.) Sometimes it is a good idea to discuss matters with the reporter first.
  • Call the paper and ask if you can write an op-ed piece. This is often a good strategy if the article is negative in tone but still factual. The editors may welcome the opportunity to publish a piece that takes a different approach to the same topic.
  • Go on local and community radio shows to spread accurate information. Radio news often picks up inaccuracies from print media. Call the station and inform them of the error. They can change their script immediately, so the mistakes are not repeated. Additionally, you can ask for opportunities to speak on the morning or evening news program, where you can share correct information and take call-in questions from the community. This is an excellent chance to address rumors and misinformation, and to set the record straight.

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VIHelping journalists write good stories

Knowing what it is that journalists need to get a story published can help you get your views into print. The more you understand the objectives, limitations, and challenges that journalists face, the more you can help a journalist do his or her job better to write accurate and compelling stories.

Here are some tips to help journalists write stories that editors will want to publish.

  • Provide an interesting story. Remember that journalists get many press releases every day. Make yours stand out. Do you have an angle that will make reporters want to cover your story?
  • Supply the reporter with several sources. One of the main principles of professional journalism is to provide accurate and balanced coverage of a story. At the same time, journalists are usually on tight deadlines and often appreciate any help with additional contacts who can confirm a story, give them background information, or offer quotes as independent experts.
  • Provide photos or ideas for visuals. Competition for space in newspapers and television news is becoming increasingly fierce. Think about the picture you want to see on the front page of the newspaper or on the nightly news. Try to frame your story with a powerful image that will carry a news article. For example:
    When the Global Campaign for Microbicides hosted an HIV Prevention Summit for Women and Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa, attended by the Deputy President, they wanted to make sure the media did not cover the story only from the government’s perspective. To help frame the story, they invited 30 teenage girls from a local high school to attend and ask the Deputy President questions about how they could protect themselves as young women. The image of these young women gave the journalists powerful photographs and video footage for their media coverage.
  • Provide sound bites. The more you can speak in catchy, short sentences, the more likely you will be quoted. Also, the journalist’s job is much easier if she or he does not have to edit your long sentences. Sound bites are usually one-liners that can include a quick metaphor, example, or a new analogy. They are not clichés, technical statistics, or quotes from other people.
  • Provide a well-written and informative press release. A press release should be used only when the content meets news criteria (see Box 9.4). Put your most important information in the headline and the first few paragraphs. If reporters do not see a story immediately, they will stop reading before finding the news you wanted to share. (See Appendices 9.4 and 9.5.)
  • Consider adding a training component to your press events. Some sites have found it useful to invite journalists to attend a half-day briefing and information session before a press conference where an announcement will be made. These training opportunities give scientists the chance to provide an overview of how clinical trials work, background on specific interventions or research in the field, and context for the announcement to come. Likewise, it gives journalists, especially those new to health issues, opportunities to ask general questions about research and strengthen their scientific understanding more broadly.

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VIINurturing relationships with the media

I’ve developed a relationship with certain researchers and advocates in the country. So when something happens, they fill me in. They take time to brief me because they know I’m interested and they know I’d like to cover the issues. Building these relationships has taken a lot of time, but it’s very important to cultivate a relationship with researchers because as a journalist, you have the challenge of trying to keep the story fresh and keeping it on the agenda.

—Kanya Ndaki, Deputy Editor of PlusNews (IRIN)

Scientists can take an active role in communicating with the press by building relationships and becoming a trusted source. All reporters have sources—people who keep them informed so they can do their job. Becoming a reliable source should be one of your priorities with the media.

By developing a working relationship with a reporter, you create an open channel to update journalists on research in your field. This could include drawing attention to a new trial, providing context about policy developments, or providing updates on the microbicide field.

Your ongoing contact with reporters will help make sure they have the information they need to do their job. However, do not confuse being friendly with the media with being friends. Building trust with a reporter is founded on a healthy respect for our different roles.

To become a source for reporters:

  • Return calls quickly and respect deadlines.
  • Make yourself available—call reporters, provide positive feedback when you read an insightful story, and create opportunities for the press to learn about your study.
  • Know the issues, both about your study and the field.
  • Provide written background materials that summarize your key messages.
  • Be a resource—put reporters in touch with other experts and suggest ways they can find more information about the issue.
  • Stay in touch. Keep journalists up to date on new developments in the field.
  • Do not make promises you cannot keep, such as providing an exclusive story.

A “trusted source” has a proactive relationship with one or more journalists and may be called on for their opinion about many aspects of the health field. If you have cultivated a good relationship with a journalist, you may become one of their regular sources. Trusted sources respond promptly to inquiries, stay well informed and updated on the latest developments in the field, and give clear and accurate information and facts.

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Key Points to remember

  • The more you understand how the media works and the challenges reporters face, the easier it will be for you to communicate clear and accurate information about health research to the public.
  • Media strategies are an important part of your overall communications plan. Decide how you will involve news media before, during, and after the trial. Select appropriate spokespersons. Adapt approaches and messages for various study milestones. Determine when to proactively seek news coverage.
  • Outline a standard operating procedure for how your site will respond to media inquiries, interact with journalists, and share news reports with your team and other internal and external stakeholders.
  • For successful interviews, make sure to prepare in advance. Deliver your key messages clearly and consistently. Provide background and facts to support your messages. Give examples and analogies that frame your story in a public health context. Follow up with the journalist after the interview.

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How to Use this Handbook


Working With the Media (Video)

Working With the Media

Communicating Your Message Through the Media (PPT slides and notes)

Communicating Your Message Through the Media

Working with the Media (PPT slides and notes)

Working with the Media


Appendix 9.1

Managing Media Inquires: Worksheet for Media Calls (PDF)

Appendix 9.2

Sample Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Media Inquires (PDF)

Appendix 9.3

Sample Letter to the Editor in Response to Negative News Article (PDF)

Appendix 9.4

Author Data Form for Writing a Press Release (PDF)

Appendix 9.5

Press Release Template (PDF)

Appendix 9.6

Sample Press Release (PDF)