Chapman University faculty continually produce a wide variety of research. Much of it is known in the circles of the disciplines for which the research is conducted, but not always beyond the world of those “peers” who read the peer-reviewed journals where the research is published. There is an opportunity to show this research to external audiences and elevate Chapman’s place among institutions known for producing great research.
Most of the research I promote in the public relations office comes from our science schools: Schmid College of Science & Technology, Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, and the School of Pharmacy. However, research – both grant supported and self or institutional funded – comes from our other colleges, as well. For example, we just promoted some research from the Argyros School of Business and Economics on the evolution of the yoga market in the United States.
Getting back to the traditional sciences (vs. social science) – their research is often very focused and can, at times, be quite technical. My job is to find a way to link that work into a larger dialogue taking place. Some of the research I work with is more conducive to that, and with others I really have to dig deep. For example, we have a researcher in Crean College who has produced work on topics including jealousy, friendship, sexual regrets, and who pays for dates. These are topics everyone can relate to, and there is emotion involved. Getting published work on subjects such as these into a more mainstream dialogue is less of a challenge, and indeed, this work gets picked up by a lot of mainstream media outlets (vs. trade publications for the research discipline, in this case – psychology).
Other research that has come across my desk to promote has to do with nitrogen-fixing plants, primordial waves, and peptides. These are highly technical subjects that require a deeper dig into where in the bigger picture these research topics fit: our climate, the birth of our universe, and cancer.
Last year we released the inaugural Chapman University Survey on American Fears. This research was unique in that it offered a big playground for us to “play” in, from a public relations standpoint. It had crime, natural disasters, ghosts, clowns, and all kinds of other personal fears, as well as “fear factors” or what characteristics people are likely to possess that make them more afraid. Fear is also an emotion that we have all experienced: fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of rejection, fear of getting caught, and so on.
The goal – the faculty told me – was to have Chapman become the “go to” place for all survey data relating to fear, a la Baylor for survey data on religion.
Finding ways to connect the fear research with larger external audiences was, to a certain degree, handed to us on a plate by virtue of the nature of the subject matter. The stories were all there – we just had to tell them. To do that, a full-blown PR campaign and strategy were created. We had an embargo date in October (to tie in with Halloween season) and began marching backward into our embargo date creating the “tools” for our PR toolbox. These tools included a press release, webpages, infographics, video interviews with the faculty to use for broadcast pitching, and a social media strategy. We soft-sounded with the media prior to the embargo date and then launched the campaign!
Coming out of the gate we secured a large number of interviews and landed a considerable number of press hits – all about the research itself. Given the big “playground” of subject matter contained within the research, we were not limited to one type of beat reporter in our media outreach. The Washington Post took the angle in their story on what Republicans fear compared with what scares Democrats. Press often breeds more press. For example, when USA Today ran a story about the fear research, that story also got picked up across the nation in a handful of much smaller, localized outlets such as Duluth and San Antonio. The media were wanting know what Americans were most afraid of so they could tell/show their viewers/readers/listeners.
As time went on, the Chapman fear data was appearing in stories that were not about the research itself, but about other things like plane crashes and pandemics and other trending stories of the day. The Chapman research would be cited in these stories and that continues even today as we prepare to launch the second annual Chapman University Survey on American Fears. To that end, we achieved the goal – the fear campaign was a success because media were now citing the Chapman fear data as a credible source for their stories. In total, we had nearly 400 media hits, 21,500 unique web page visits, hundreds of social shares, and more than 2,000 YouTube views.
The fear research was unique in another way, too. It was a team effort that yielded national awards in public relations and graphic design. However, this sort of allocation of resources is not applied to every piece of research Chapman generates.
If Chapman wants to be known more as a research institution, we need to keep promoting the good work our faculty produce. So please continue to let the PR office know about your grants and published work. I personally read all the research sent to me, cover to cover. If I don’t understand something, I will ask the faculty member for clarification. The idea behind promoting the work is for me to understand it to a degree that I can get someone else (the media) interested in speaking with the subject matter experts. When that happens, we’ve opened the door wider to let the rest of the world know about the research coming from Chapman University.