Media Relations toolkit - UCL

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Media Relations toolkit - UCL Powered By Docstoc

The aim of the UCL Media Relations Office is to achieve the best possible media profile for UCL across the
range of external media. We work to achieve this in close collaboration with staff at all levels across the

This guide is intended to answer some of the most frequent questions posed to us by the university‟s academics
and staff, and explain how UCL people can best use the resource that is the Media Relations Office. Please feel
free to enter into direct communication with us if you require more information, are unclear on any point, or if you
would like to come and visit us and see how we work in practice. We are also happy to come out and visit any
part of UCL and explain in more detail how we work.

1. Basics

1.1     Why does UCL have a Media Relations team?

1.2     When should you contact the Media Relations team?

1.3     How soon should you make contact with the Media Relations team?

1.4     What can you expect from your contact with the Media Relations team?

1.5     What do the Media Relations team do on a typical day?

2. MR and Communications

2.1     How do the Media Relations and Communications teams work together?

2.2     Which team should you contact first?

3. Who will want my story?

3.1     How do you know if your announcement is a story?
3.2     Is it news?
3.3     How does news selection work?

3.4     What are the alternatives to news coverage?

4. Working with the media

4.1     How will the Media Relations team promote my story?
4.2     To what extent must I make myself available to the media?

4.3     What is UCL Experts and how does it work?

4.4     What if journalists wish to speak to me outside office hours?
4.5       Do you provide media training?

4.6       What if the media contact me with a bad news story?

4.7       What are the guidelines on talking to the media?

5. And finally…

5.1       What if my question isn‟t answered here?

5.2       Whom should I contact in the Media Relations team?

1.1 Why does UCL have a Media Relations team?

UCL has a Media Relations office because the University recognises that a positive media profile is vital to
UCL‟s reputation with the wider world and to enabling it to maintain and enhance its status as one of the world‟s
leading universities. It also recognises that this activity is most likely to be successful when co-ordinated by a
team of professionals used to working with the media and with an understanding of the needs, priorities and
ways of working of both UCL and the media.

A positive media profile has a number of potential tangible benefits:

         Raising of income, whether for research or other projects
         Recruitment of students and academics, both in the UK and internationally
         Contribution to the wider world‟s understanding of the subjects in which UCL experts frequently lead
          their field
         Reinforcing the view of external stakeholders and the wider public that the institution is accountable,
          transparent, and the source of much valuable work
         Providing recognition for the work that goes on at UCL, and giving staff, students and alumni a warm
          glow of satisfaction
         When negative stories emerge, ensuring these are seen as isolated incidents emanating from what is,
          primarily, a highly-regarded institution.

The Media Relations team can work to enhance the public profile of UCL and its staff, and use its specialist
knowledge to ensure information coming out of UCL is presented in a way that will maximise its chances of
achieving media coverage. For instance, the overview that the Media Relations team has of activity across the
university enables us to plan ahead, and work strategically to ensure that we present our stories to the right
media at the right time. The team is also dedicated to tracking down the most newsworthy stories across UCL
and ensuring that these receive the coverage that they deserve.
Case studies of the potential benefits of positive media coverage

Case Study 1


                      In March 2010, UCL Media Relations promoted a story based on a paper in the journal
                      Zootaxa about the discovery of a new species of dinosaur – Linheraptor exquisitus.

                      A relative of the famous Velociraptor, it was discovered in Inner Mongolia by two PhD
                      students, Michael Pittman (UCL Earth Sciences) and Jonah Choiniere from George
                      Washington University (GWU). They found the dinosaur sticking out of a cliff face during a
                      field project in Inner Mongolia, China.

                     UCL Communications produced a video interview with Michael which was used for media
purposes alongside a widely issued press release. The video, featured on UCL‟s homepage and YouTube
channel, has received nearly 5,000 views.

The story attracted worldwide media coverage, with highlights including:

BBC News Online, GMTV (ITV), BBC London Breakfast News, „London Today‟ (ITV), Nature News, The Mail on
Sunday, The Sun, Press Association, Yorkshire Post, Irish Independent, Xinhua News Service

Michael, UCL Earth Sciences, said: “Finding Linheraptor was an amazing experience and its important impact on
my field is great. However, publicising the find was a fun ride because it was nice seeing the public show so
much interest in work that I love very much.

“Clare Ryan and her colleagues at the UCL media office did a fantastic job ensuring that any information on the
find was accessible to media teams around the world. Thanks for bringing Linheraptor to the world stage!”

Case Study 2

Law Code

In January 2010, UCL Media Relations promoted a story about UCL historians who have discovered part of an
ancient Roman law code previously thought to have been lost forever.

Simon Corcoran and Benet Salway (UCL History) made the breakthrough after piecing together 17 fragments of
previously incomprehensible parchment. The fragments were being studied at UCL as part of the Arts &
Humanities Research Council-funded „Projet Volterra‟ – a ten-year study of Roman law in its full social, legal and
political context.

                                       Corcoran and Salway found that the text belonged to the Codex Gregorianus,
                                       or Gregorian Code, a collection of laws by emperors from Hadrian (AD 117-
138) to Diocletian (AD 284-305), which was published circa AD 300. Little was known about the codex’s original
form and there were, until now, no known copies in existence.

The story attracted national and international print and online media coverage, with highlights including:

The Guardian, The Independent, Evening Standard, Hindustan Times, Asian News international

Case Study 3


In January 2010, UCL Media Relations promoted new research from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology that
suggested a simple and inexpensive eye test could aid detection and diagnosis of major neurological diseases
such as Alzheimer‟s at an earlier stage than is currently possible.

The research, led by Professors Francesca Cordeiro and Stephen Moss and published in Cell Death & Disease,
demonstrated a new technique that enables retinal, and therefore brain cell death, to be directly measured in
real time.

                        It is thought that the method, demonstrated in an animal model, could refine diagnosis of
                        neurodegenerative disorders, help track disease progress and potentially aid the
                        assessment and development of new treatments.

                        This research story attracted wide national and international media coverage, with
                        highlights including:

                        BBC News Online, New Scientist, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, BBC
                        Radio 2, BBC Radio Five Live, BBC World Service, ITV News, The Times

1.2 When should you contact the Media Relations team?

There are a number of different circumstances when you should contact Media Relations. These might include:

       You have findings from a research project that could be of interest to the media or a paper appearing in
        one of the scientific journals
       You are planning a conference or are making a speech of potential media interest
       You wish to explore the possibility of media training as you may be called upon to give interviews
       Your department or faculty wishes to mark a key date (a new building, an anniversary, a book or report
        launch, etc)
       You wish to explore how your department or institution could raise its media profile, with a specific end in
        sight (attracting students or staff, fundraising, raising public awareness of a particular issue)
       You are aware of a potentially negative story that may impact upon your department or UCL more widely
       You simply have general questions about the operation of the Media Relations team, or wish for
        information on any aspect of the functioning of the media.
If any of these applies, then please let Media Relations know, and we will address how we can best support the
activity in question. Initially we will work with you to establish your objectives, as this forms an integral part of
planning effective media activity, and will enable us to arrive at an initial assessment of the priority we will give
the project in question. At the same time as contacting Media Relations, you may wish also to let your Head of
Department and/or Departmental Administrator know – the Media Relations team is in regular contact with
Departmental Heads and Administrators with the aim of achieving better coordination of news announcements.

1.3 How soon should you make contact with Media Relations?

If you have a piece of news or an event in mind that you think may have media potential, please contact us as
soon as possible. It is almost impossible to contact the Media Relations team too early. For instance, if you have
a paper appearing in Nature, it is worth letting us know as soon as the paper is accepted. Nature themselves will
notify us a week before publication, but by then it can, in some circumstances, be too late to promote the paper
effectively. For instance, the appropriate Media Relations manager may be on leave, or the author may not have
thought to leave space in the diary ahead of publication for interviews to take place.

It could be that your story is strong enough to be pitched to TV documentary makers. This is normally an
extremely lengthy process, as ideas need to be pitched to film-makers, who in turn then need to be
commissioned, before the film itself is made.

In conclusion, the sooner we are aware of a story or event of potential media interest, we can begin to plan an
appropriate handling strategy and ensure the story gets the treatment it deserves.

1.4       What can you expect from your contact with the Media Relations team?

The UCL Media Relations Office is a resource available to the entire UCL community. So if you are within UCL
and contact us, you can expect a timely response to your query or request for assistance. At the same time, to
function effectively, and given the sheer number of departments, institutions and individual academics who are
entitled to request our services, the Media Relations team has to prioritise to function successfully. Thus all
requests for support will be judged according to two basic criteria:

         The potential for media interest in the project/story
         The extent to which working on the project in question will benefit UCL‟s overall strategic objectives, as
          set out by the Provost and Senior Management Team.

The first criterion is generally established by the team in dialogue with the academic or department who have
brought us the story – this area is dealt with in greater detail in Section 3, Who will want my story?

The second criterion – strategic relevance – is arrived at through appropriate consultation with the university‟s
leadership, notably the Provost and his Senior Management Team, as well as the university‟s Corporate
Communications Office, which has taken the lead on developing the corporate communications strategy that has
been endorsed by UCL Council.

A number of key documents will shape and direct our Media Relations strategy:

         The Provost‟s White Paper, setting out a ten-year strategy for UCL
         The corporate communications strategy that has been developed by UCL‟s Corporate Communications
          and has been endorsed by UCL Council
         UCL‟s Corporate Plan 2006 – 2012

If in any doubt, we would always encourage you to contact the Media Relations team as early as possible with
anything that you feel may attract media attention. After assessing your story we will provide you with our view of
the strength of the story, how much time we will give it and how we will work with you to promote it.

1.5       What do the Media Relations team do on a typical day?

A typical day for a member of the Media Relations team will probably include:

         Monitoring coverage of UCL across the media, and looking through the media to keep abreast of all
          issues of potential relevance to UCL (HE reports, Universities UK communications, government
          announcements etc)
         Drafting a press notice to highlight the work of a UCL academic
         Responding to journalists asking to be put in touch with a UCL expert for a particular programme or
         Attending meetings with UCL academics, Heads of Departments or Deans to advise on media activity
         Accompanying a camera crew coming in to interview someone at UCL
         Liaising with colleagues in the Communications Office to share information on future stories.

Media relations and Communications
2.1     How do Media Relations and Communications work together?

The Media Relations and Communications teams are two constituent parts of corporate relations, based within
the Development & Corporate Communications Office, and between them are responsible for maintaining and
raising UCL‟s public profile.

The Media Relations team is concerned purely with obtaining the best possible coverage for UCL in the external
media. Our primary role is providing the interface between the university and news media, offering good stories
that support UCL‟s strategic objectives to the appropriate publication, programme or website.

The Communications team is primarily engaged in writing news for UCL News, which is filtered through to
numerous websites across UCL. They also produce audiovisual material to support UCL‟s corporate
communications themes, available on UCL‟s audio and video page, UCL‟s channel on YouTube, and UCL on
iTunes U. The team produces printed publications including the UCL Annual Review, About UCL and the alumni
magazine UCL People. They can also advise staff and departments on effective printed and electronic
communications materials.

Activities of the Communications team are aimed at a range of internal and external audiences. Similarly to the
Media Relations team, this team assesses story suggestions according to agreed institutional priorities and
target audiences. Both teams regularly share the suggestions they have received, and discuss the best way
forward on a case-by-case basis.

2.2     Whom should you contact first?

If you have a story idea, or wish to discuss enhancing the profile of your department, it is probably worth
contacting both Communications and Media Relations in the first instance, and we will then informally discuss
your requirements before formulating our response.

You can contact us jointly, and submit your story idea, by sending details to, preferably
using the „Submit Your Story‟ form which can be found at
You can find contact details for the Media Relations team at the end of this document or at, including the faculties covered by each press officer, so you can find the press
officer dedicated to your area.

Contact details for the Communications team can be found at

The two teams are in regular contact with a view to agreeing communications priorities jointly, exchanging story
suggestions, and ensuring that these receive the best possible profile. The teams also meet formally on a
weekly basis. As a general rule it is worthwhile contacting both teams if you have an event you wish to promote
or a story to offer, although in practice these will in any case find their way from one team to the other given the
close nature of our working relations.

3 Who will want my story?

3.1     How do you know if you have a good story?

Using external media to reach an audience is potentially a very profitable exercise. But it is important to
remember that the media are not in existence for the purpose of conveying the information that you need to
impart. Their primary and abiding purpose is to inform and entertain their desired viewers and/or readers with
information that they believe their audience will find interesting. If promotion of an organisation occurs as a by-
product, that is ok, but it is not their job to provide corporate information.

This reality is one of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of the work of Media Relations. To be
successful in our mission of promoting UCL, we need to take an outsider‟s view of every project or story being
proposed. It is ultimately bad for our credibility if we are continuously offering journalists stories that will not meet
their own criteria of informing and entertaining their readers or viewers.

In working with you to arrive at an assessment of your proposal, we will naturally explore alternatives if it does
not have the right profile for the external media. It could be that it is something of specific interest to the UCL
community, in which case we would put you in touch with our colleagues in Communications. It could be, if you
are seeking to reach an extremely narrow segment of the population, that a direct mailing could be the solution.
We will seek to provide appropriate advice for every situation.

3.2     Is it news?
Naturally enough, many of the proposals that come to Media Relations are presented to us with a view to
publication in the national newspapers or broadcast media, arguably the most competitive arena in which to
place stories. You will get a pretty good idea of the viability of your proposal for this media by asking the
following questions about it, or exploring these with Media Relations at the outset:

         Is it about something that has yet to happen? – Newspapers generally cover stories either on the day
          they happen, or the following day. They are unlikely to cover anything older as a news story. This is
          where an early approach to the Media Relations office can make the difference
         Is this „new‟ information, i.e. not already in the public domain? (This will usually mean that the
          information is new)
         Is this something that would interest your neighbour or relative? – How would you explain the story to
          someone who probably does not have specialist knowledge of the subject? (a variation of this is whether
          you could explain the story in the time that you are in an elevator with someone). If you can do this
          relatively easily the chances are that the media too will consider it a „good‟ story with news potential. If
          not, it may require a different approach to achieve coverage
         Is your story related to the existing news agenda, and could it potentially piggyback on that?

3.3       How does news selection work?

By and large, news either tends to be bad, focusing on controversy, or offering information that organisations
would often prefer was not in the media at all. The most prominent stories in a randomly selected recent copy of
The Independent are: a parliamentary report stating that the Allies‟ programme to rebuild Afghanistan is in crisis,
a sex scandal implicating UN staff in the Congo, continuing bad news for President Bush in Iraq, the report on
the failure of the Beagle 2 mission to Mars and a punch-up involving ASLEF union leaders at a barbecue.

As Nigel Hawkes, Ex-Health Editor of The Times, has said: “Stories about things going well are seldom stories.
The opposite of a bad press is not a good press – it‟s no press at all.”

News selection is always to some extent a subjective business, and even a good story that is well-presented will
not guarantee print or broadcast space. This especially applies when a major news story breaks – if it is big
enough, editors will drop other items to make the necessary space.

Having said that, if your story is picked up by the independent media, the very fact that is has passed the hurdles
of news value and the scepticism of journalists and editors will only enhance its credibility with the target
audience. If your story is on BBC TV or in The Times, it‟s probably because first, it deserves to be, and second, it
has been presented to these media in such a way that they recognise it is newsworthy.
What are the alternatives to news coverage?

The sheer diversity and specialisation of media today, allied to the difficulty of guaranteeing coverage in the
mainstream news media, means that the Media Relations team will also work with you to consider other
opportunities to achieve coverage for a story.


Newspapers are increasingly laden with specialist sections and supplements, while there are increasing
numbers of niche television channels, and it may well be that your story idea or your work would be more
appropriately pitched here. Specialist sections in subjects such as health, transport, education abound, and as
these are aimed at an audience with a greater depth of interest in that subject, it could be that your story will gain
a better hearing for those sections. The story will still need to enthuse the journalist or editor, who will assess it
using similar criteria to those set out for news, but there won‟t be quite the same time sensitivity, and you are
less likely to be definitively bounced if the story isn‟t perceived purely as news.

Specialist media

There are plenty of opportunities beyond the national media that we would explore for stories that may not be
appropriate to the nationals. These include:

       Trade publications
       Specialist journals
       Regional/local media
       Online media
       Special interest programmes (science, health, etc).

Many of these may not have the reach of national newspapers and TV news, but, as specialists, the audiences
they attract may be far more useful to you than the broader sweep offered by the nationals.

The Media Relations team will explore these possibilities with you when you bring a story to our attention. In
addition to knowledge gained through experience, we have access to software packages that enable us to
compile up-to-date distribution lists of correspondents, publications, websites and specialist programmes
according to their areas of interest.
4 Working with the media

4.1     How will the Media Relations team promote my story?

There are many different ways of approaching the media to get a story out there. Following your initial contact
with us, we will work up a strategy that is appropriate to your particular story.

One standard method is a press release, worked on jointly by the academic involved and the Media Relations
team, and then distributed to appropriate media. This is a frequent accompaniment to a paper being published in
a journal. Some journals promote their papers in the media, others provide a more limited service and others
don‟t do it at all, so the Media Relations team is available to provide the necessary level of support.

A press release is by no means always the best way of promoting a story. Many journalists prefer an exclusive,
and, in the right publication, such an exclusive may later be picked up by others. On occasion we may advise a
briefing for a number of journalists, or a one-on-one contact with a chosen journalist on a targeted publication.
We will think over the options and propose various ideas as part of our service to you.

4.2     To what extent must I make myself available to the media?

Quite simply, the more accessible you are to the media, the more likely it is that you will receive coverage. If a
journalist cannot make contact with you easily to discuss your work, they will soon go elsewhere for another
story. Generally, if you are not available to take media calls and requests for interviews at the time of release, it
is unlikely that we will be able to help you achieve maximum exposure for your story.

For instance, if we are working to gain coverage for a paper at a conference, it will help the coverage if you
remain easily contactable to pick up on interest. If you are abroad for the week leading up to publication with
your mobile switched off, you won‟t get the coverage that you might expect if you are readily accessible and
flexible. If you are unable to be around at the time of publication, with advance preparation we can work around
this, for instance by offering interviews well ahead to trusted journalists who won‟t break the embargo. (This is
another reason why early communication with the Media Relations team is important.)

4.3     What is Find an Expert and how does it work?
A great way of increasing your and your Department‟s visibility across the media is to be included on the UCL
Find an Expert system which allows journalists to search online for appropriate academics from UCL. This
resource is used by media to locate experts on any given issue that they are covering. If you wish to be included
in the database, please go to the website to fill out your profile or contact us for more information.

4.4     What if journalists wish to speak to me outside office hours?

The same principle set out in Section 4.2 applies in the same way to calls outside normal office hours.
Academics – and universities – with a reputation for returning calls and being accessible will receive more
coverage than those who do not.

The UCL Media Relations Office runs an out-of-hours service for media, who will on occasion come to us in
evenings and at weekends looking for an appropriate expert. (Journalists may also contact us seeking to contact
a specific individual whom they have earmarked through the Find an Expert system.) We hold a list of out of
hours contact numbers for key UCL spokespeople, and are constantly adding names and areas of specialities to
this list. If you would like to be added to this, please contact us with your details or fill out your profile via our web
pages. Journalists calling out of hours are often struggling to find an appropriate expert, so this can be a good
opportunity to get into the media if you are interested in doing this.

The UCL Media Relations team never gives home or mobile numbers to journalists without specific authorisation
from that person.

If you are approached directly by the media and require support or advice, the Media Relations team can be
contacted out of hours – to obtain the relevant number either check on the media pages on the website, or call
the daytime number, from where you will be directed to the out-of-hours number.

4.5     Do you provide media training?

Giving an interview or speaking at a press briefing can be daunting, and the Media Relations team is able to
provide support to help address this.

For instance, we are happy to provide basic training for a member of UCL staff who would find an informal,
targeted session on one particular area to be useful. For instance, if you have agreed to be interviewed by a
journalist, we are able to talk through the issues that might arise, and if considered useful, stage a mock
interview. This is tailored according to whether the interview is for TV, radio or print media, as these are all very
different in make-up and requirement.

For more in-depth training, we can also recommend a range of courses tailored to different aspects of working
with media. Please ask us for our information pack.

4.6     What if the media contact me asking about a negative story?

The principle that the Media Relations team should be contacted as soon as possible applies just as much to
potential bad news stories. Ideally, we should be informed before the story hits the media, to give us time to
formulate any necessary response. So as soon as you feel that there is a story that may hit the media with a
potentially negative impact for UCL, you need to involve the Media Relations team at the earliest possible
opportunity. The team is experienced in crisis management, and will be able to advise on how best any given
situation should be handled.

4.7     What are the guidelines on talking to the media?

Statements and comments to the media about the university‟s policies or position on any issue should only be
made through the Provost or his appointed spokesperson. Anybody approached for a comment on UCL‟s
position on any such issue should refer the caller to the Media Relations team.

The Media Relations team has no desire or remit to restrict the regular daily exchange between UCL academics
and the media. UCL experts are in regular demand, and the university‟s visibility in the media through its experts
is a valuable addition to its prestige. We would welcome any informal discussion with media friendly experts
ahead of any activity, as it would help us identify good spokespeople for future opportunities which we can then
route in the right direction, as well as identify journalists along with their areas of expertise.

5.1     What if my question isn‟t answered here?

This is only intended as a basic guide to how the media works, and we will add information in an ongoing basis,
including in response to any needs drawn to our attention by people within UCL. Please feel free to contact one
of the UCL Media Relations team on the details set out below if you need more information or advice.

5.2     Who do I contact?
The Media Relations team each have responsibility for specific subject areas and parts of UCL, so please
contact the right one for you in the first instance:

Dominique Fourniol (Head of Media Relations)

+44 (0) 20 7679 9728

Int: 09728

Mob: 07881 833 274

Higher Education Issues, Laws

Ruth Howells (Media Relations Manager)

+44 (0) 20 7679 9739

Int: 09739

Mob: 07990 675 947

Biomedical Sciences, Postgraduate Institutes

Clare Ryan (Media Relations Manager)

+44 (0) 20 7679 9726

Int: 09726

Mob: 07747 565 056

Built Environment, Life Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Dave Weston (Media Relations Manager)

+44 (0) 20 7679 7678
Int: 07678

Mob: 07733 307 596

Engineering Sciences, Social and Historical Sciences, Arts and Humanities

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