Business schools spend a lot of time talking about combining academic quality with practical application. Ideally, all research from business schools would be both academically rigorous and appealing to practitioners. The reality, of course, is that much research is not that accessible to non-academic audiences.
Debra L. Shapiro and Bradley Kirkman in Harvard Business Review argue that there are two problems that contribute to this challenge. First that managers don’t typically turn to academic journals to help them, and second research is not usually designed with their input.
This is frustrating, as a lot of academic research holds value for wider audiences if it was better known and presented in a more accessible way.
A key activity that can address the first problem outlined in HBR, and hopefully influence the second, is sharing more research findings with the media. In an age of fake news and high levels of mistrust, rigorous yet practical research has never been so important.
Both journalists, and readers, listeners and viewers want content that is backed up by good evidence and rigour. In the latest Edelman Trust Barometer (2019), academic experts are cited as one of the top two credible sources of information.
There are great opportunities for academic institutions to share their research and thinking more widely with the media. To do this successfully there are four key aspects to consider.
The first of these is the issue of translating academic content for business and practitioner audiences. It can seem that academia and business speak different languages. Working with the media, content and ideas need to be communicated clearly and concisely. For example, instead of “strategic paradigm shift in the global macro environment”, you could say “major change affecting all organisations”. Look through any major publication, such as the Financial Times or the Economist – the language is short, simple, and easy to read.
Second is the different focus that journalists place on research outcomes or the “so what?” over the research process itself. While research methodology is very important in an academic setting, the media’s main focus is on results. For example, journalists are unlikely to be interested in a study that finds that most websites on the dark web are used for crime and illegal activities. While statistically valid and well researched, it only confirms what people know already. It fails the “so what?” test. Journalists are interested in research that says something different or counter-intuitive.
The third, to be successful in generating media coverage, is to link research in with topical news stories and subjects. How can journalists use research to support wider pieces they are producing? Good examples include leadership research which can inform current debates on political or business leaders or studies on operations and strategy that support or question manufacturing developments. Research on its own can be newsworthy but linking to a wider agenda greatly improves its chances of coverage.
Finally, there is the need to answer the questions of what issue the research addresses, and ultimately how it is going to help society, organisations, or individuals? All journalists produce content with their readers, listeners, or viewers in mind. It is vital to communicate how your research is relevant to them. For example: can you offer journalists interviews with both the academic researchers and any organisations that took part?
If done well, engaging with journalists is a great way to help raise the profile and impact of your research, and reach business and practitioner audiences.
Toby Roe, Roe Communications