Wine, Food & Nutrition

Bringing Data to Life: How to communicate food & nutrition research to gain media attention

Co-authored by Joanne Tehrani, RD

As marketers of food and beverage products, we often have the privilege of communicating newly published research with implications in consumer health and nutrition. When the research is sound, and the messaging effective, this can make a major impact on awareness and behavior. Look at blueberries –awareness of their health benefits has doubled over the past decade, and consumption continues to rise. But translating scientific research into media- or consumer-friendly information isn’t as simple as it sounds. Below are several key learnings we’ve gleaned through the years:

Think like a storyteller – Food and nutrition research is only as compelling as the way you present it, so before you release the results of a new study, consider the following:

  • What are your desired newsbytes or media takeaways? Thinking this through before you go out with your pitch is one of the most crucial steps in communicating nutrition science to the media. During this message development process, it’s beneficial to seek the expertise of a professional in the health field — a registered dietitian, or the researcher him or herself — who can read, interpret and communicate the core elements of the study to consumers. Because the researcher has the most intimate knowledge of the data and ultimately will be held responsible for the findings, he or she should be involved in crafting the key messages and credited accordingly.
  • Who is your target audience? Are you releasing the information to general consumers or to the science media? Establishing this will help you determine the message track in terms of language development and scientific data. For instance, science reporters often like to see charts and graphs included in a pitch or press release.
  • What’s the human element? Consider how to link your messages to current human health concerns. For instance, if a study uncovers news about weight gain, it would be smart to include it within the context of the obesity issue in the US.
  • What can you pitch “off the news”? This is all about timing, and about keeping your eyes open for opportunities. For example, if your study shows that consuming a certain vegetable might help prevent breast cancer, ask your researcher/expert to conduct interviews during breast cancer awareness month.

Engage with illustrations – Just because it’s data doesn’t mean can’t be engaging! Here are a few ways to add color to your research-based communications:

  • Include compelling images. Media like to use them for slideshows, which are big traffic-drivers to news sites, and for their social media content. Make them easy for reporters to find and grab (from a release or the web) — the more high-res options you can provide, the better.
  • Incorporate video. Reporters love b-roll video that shows research in process … they do NOT love videos that are overtly branded, or footage of researchers talking about their work. And video can be used opportunistically. For example, when Consumer Reports published a story on the use of fake blueberries in manufactured products, the Blueberry Council took the opportunity to provide b-roll that helped the media report on the advantages to using real blueberries.
  • Everyone appreciates data visualization. Illustrating your data in a compelling way is helpful in capturing reporters’ attention and in fostering online sharing. This blueberry nutrition infographic is one great example.

Above all, do your homework

  • Choose your experts wisely. If you’re positioning someone as an expert on your research, make sure they’re well-spoken, interesting, knowledgeable on the topic and willing and ready to speak to reporters as soon as your pitch goes out. Encourage your expert to write op/eds (blog posts) about his or her research, either on your own website, or as a guest post for something like Huffington Post.
  • Don’t make your research sound more significant than it is. This is the most important point of all! It’s best to provide media with published studies to help them read further in to the research, and you don’t want them to find a flaw in your reporting, or embellished data. Stick to the findings and be prepared to answer questions. For example, when research is done on powders or extracts of food, be ready for questions like “How much extract or powder do I have to eat to potentially benefit?”

With a well thought-out and informed approach to message development, packaging and presentation, your research findings will be set up to succeed in the eyes of media and the minds of consumers.

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About Emily Valentine:

As a senior account executive at PadillaCRT, Emily has provided brand marketing and public relations counsel to clients including the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) and BISSELL Homecare Inc. Her areas of expertise include branding and image-building, food marketing and corporate social responsibility. Emily's home base is Washington,D.C. where she loves running, biking and shopping at Whole Foods whenever she has the chance.

2 Comments on “Bringing Data to Life: How to communicate food & nutrition research to gain media attention

  1.  by  Ruth Lowenberg
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    Well done! Lots of good insight and advice here. I would just add that if a food trade association or company is investing in nutrition/health research to be used ultimately in their marketing communications programs, then nutrition/health communications specialists need to be involved in the development of the research plan. All too often we are expected to communicate the results of studies that have little or no relevance to the consumer. If it’s solid research,then typically,studies that may have limited interest must be conducted first in order to get to the next level of research that generates results with direct application and great media stories. It is our responsibility to help clients understand that this can be a long and involved process. Check out how the Almond Board is engaging the media in their ongoing research. Clever!
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/dining/are-nuts-a-weight-loss-aid.html
    .

  2.  by  Emily Valentine
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    Thanks for your comment, Ruth. Yes, it is certainly advantageous to involve a nutrition communications specialist in selecting what studies to field or fund … and, yes, it’s important for groups foraying into health research to realize how lengthy (and even unpredictable) the process can be.

    Thanks for sharing the NY Times piece on nuts and satiety. An interesting approach to an interesting topic!

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