Whatever kind of life sciences company you are, it’s important to get your message out there and communicate your work to the right people. Media coverage can be an excellent way to do that, but getting interest from the top publications can be harder than it looks.
In August, we hosted the One Nucleus ‘BioWednesday’ event, inviting four leading life sciences journalists to share their industry insights, hearing from Clive Cookson, Financial Times; Amber Tong, Endpoints; Lucie Ellis, In Vivo; and Sabah Meddings, Sunday Times. Here, we share their top tips on how to create great stories and secure coverage.
Ask: ‘why would someone be interested’?
The first thing a journalist or editor will do when deciding whether to cover your story is ask ‘why is this relevant to my readers’. And so should you.
What determines whether a story is relevant depends on the publication, but generally what matters is how widely applicable it is. A great story, says Amber Tong, ‘will change how the reader plans their day or strategy’ – at Endpoints, this means relevance for those outside of product development – ‘Is it a new trend? Will including it in your drug make it more effective?’
For Sabah Meddings, a story is always relevant if it impacts a company’s value – those that send the share prices up or down are ‘gold currency’. In life sciences, that could be the first patient treated in a new study or the arrival of a new investor.
According to Clive Cookson, ‘wow’ factor stories are those that make you go home and tell a family member or a friend. Two examples he offered were stories about the world’s largest rat poisoning campaign on South Georgia, and the link between short-sightedness and exposure to bright natural light.
Provide context and craft it well
All four panellists agreed that the quality of writing is fundamental to getting printed, so once you have your story, spend time honing it.
Including figures in your headline can be a good way to catch a journalist’s attention, but Clive urges you to make sure that they’re validated. ‘We always need at least two sources to be able to publish something... especially for a number or statistic that’s surprising.’
Context is also crucial. Clive adds, ‘if it’s a release about a potential new Alzheimer’s drug, provide an overview of the recent work going on in the space.’
Lucy Ellis advised against using trite buzzwords, such as overused terms like ‘game-changing’ or ‘The war on…’
It’s also good to include multimedia with your story. Although every FT online article needs a picture, Clive said ‘very few people provide images, and when caught between two choices’ it may be the clincher.
Get your timing right
The number one gripe for our panellists was pitching a story at a bad time. So, when are the right and wrong times to pitch?
If you’re pitching to the Sunday Times, alert them of the news early in the week. ‘By Tuesday morning, we know who we need to speak to for the week’ says Sabah. ‘We meet contacts on Wednesday and begin writing on Thursday for a 6pm deadline later that day.’
Endpoints’ newsletters go out every day at 12pm and 3.30pm UK time, the latter covering features, creating an opportunity for interviews. ‘If we cover a story in the breaking news email in the morning … we can always add to the story in the afternoon’ says Amber.
At In Vivo, in addition to daily deadlines for the website, Lucy is looking for some content further in advance, ‘We have six themed issues throughout the year. For these issues we are looking for things 3-4 months ahead.’
And a few things to always consider – check if the publication has already covered your news and, as Lucy Ellis reminds us, ‘make sure that the key people are not on holiday when your story breaks!’
Timing is important, and the story must always be relevant on publication, but for Sabah Meddings ‘if it’s a good story, there’s never a bad time to ring.’
If it’s on the record it stays on the record
Sabah Meddings advises never assume something is off the record, so watch every word. If you successfully get an interview with a journalist, what you don’t want to say is just as important as what you do. Similarly, Clive Cookson highlights the need for prior agreement – even if ‘you say afterwards, ‘that was off the record’, the journalist has a right to report it.’
Arguments about what can and can’t be included in the story can sour an interview and may even ‘make it into the final article,’ says Sabah.
Finally, don’t expect to be able to amend an article. Whilst Amber and Lucy were more open to adding clarifications, particularly to scientific descriptions, Sabah and Clive took a harder line. ‘I hate changing things online’ said Clive, ‘99% are not corrections, the company just doesn’t like the emphasis that’s been used.’