Tackling the Science Communication Puzzle

For those of you I haven’t met, I’m Anne Nardi and I joined the NCRWN team in October as the network’s marketing and communications specialist. Now, if you, like many of the science professionals I have met in the past, just recoiled at the word ‘marketing’, I don’t blame you. Communications and marketing have gotten a bad rap in the science world. But in my opinion, communication and marketing are critical to the success of science-based solutions.

Like it or not, we are all a product of our biases and heuristics. We each have unique perspectives, and those perspectives and life experiences affect how we think – including how we think about water and water-related issues. And while that may seem obvious, these individual level differences mean the way to effectively communicate with one person is not necessarily the best way to communicate with someone else. Moreover, individuals often communicate in different ways, so the platform that is best to reach one person isn’t always the best platform to reach someone else. To make matters more complicated, sometimes communication best practices don’t prove to be true in specific situations.

In reality, even projects with the best intentions don’t always result in communications success. Take for example, the United States of Climate Change, the Weather Channel‘s recent initiative highlighting stories from each state on the realities of a changing climate. The initiative, which was featured on the homepage of the Weather Channel in January, received a lot of traffic and attention, and at first glance, I thought it was an example of a great communications campaign. But when I took a closer look, I noticed all the stories were long-term – very long-form. One story on the climate’s impact on whiskey production is over 3,000 words long. Now, I don’t know about you, but for me reading a 3,000-word story is quite the time commitment. The story doesn’t even mention climate change until 2,500 words in; in communications, this is what we call ‘burying the lead’ and it’s not always the most effective writing style, as you can lose people along the way. (I like whiskey and I’m interested in the environment and I still lost interest!)

So, what does this all mean? Well, in some respects it’s to say that communications is often more complicated than it seems. But, it’s also to say that it is an integral part of everything we do. Because if you do fascinating research on the climate’s impact on whiskey production – people want to know about it. But if we don’t use the right channel, the right message, or the right format to communicate it – we could limit the positive impact of even the most noble work.

We are all part of communication solutions. As science professionals, you know your stuff, and you know who it is you’re trying to reach. In communications, those are the corner pieces of the puzzle – the first pieces you need to complete the big picture. Once we have that, it’s a matter of doing our research, making a plan, and taking in different perspectives to ensure we aren’t too entrenched in our own way of thinking. Because, like so many other topics, collaboration is key to wide-spread success. And for me – I can’t wait to get started.

If you have communications ideas or issues and would like to chat, feel free to send me a note at anardi@wisc.edu.


Anne Nardi, Network Communications
  1. From that perspective, I’m curious if anyone has looked into the Penn-Maryland decision to name its whiskey after an Abraham Lincoln landmark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *