Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

Doesn't Everybody Love A Nutty Professor?

Media training expert encourages professors to disarm and intrigue journalists

By  Carolyn Bull

Tue Dec 14 2010

Communicating effectively on screen and in print is harder than it sounds, especially if you’re an otherworldly academic with a tenuous link to reality. A stereotypical image for sure, but there’s a degree of truth in every caricature.

With tuition fees rising and an increasingly competitive education system, an institution’s reputation, and thus its ability to manufacture positive PR, is becoming evermore vital. But how can an esoteric professor become a media star? A dynamic, engaging and captivating slickster, who boosts his and his university’s profile?

Tom Maddocks, Course Director of firm Media Training Associates, believes the answer lies in bridging the gap between academic and media perspectives, destroying their preconceptions and reversing the mindset of both professions.

Journalists and broadcasters are no longer scoop-hungry sensationalist hacks. Instead, they’re superhuman filters, distilling information as fast as possible, sorting the rough from the smooth and bowing to the tight deadlines that dictate daily print and television media.

The underlying concept of the entire session was that journalists nowadays just don’t have the time. They have no time to decipher and translate the intellectual gabbling of the average effusive professor who is more than happy to spend five hours soliloquizing on his 100,000 word, 12-week thesis during an interview; and we, the audience, probably have just as little inclination. In other words, unless it’s toned down, broken down and comprehensible to the masses, it’s simply not media-friendly.

The harsh reality, is seems, is that no matter who you are or what you’re talking about, you always have to play the journalist’s game. More often than not, if a university is able to secure a ten-minute interview for one of their professors, the journo will walk in there with half the article already written in his head.

The professor has to disarm him, intrigue him and cut to the quick in order to maintain his interest, and above all, he has to deliver polished answers. And with so much riding on building the brand and status of a university, it makes sense to turn to professionals like Maddocks, to coach academic staff in the best way to present and discipline themselves during interviews. Because you better believe that the journalist has four or five rent-a-quotes on speed-dial as back up, all of whom will be 100% jargon free.

During my three years at university, I experienced my fair share of nutty professors and I have to admit that there were a few times when - bewildered and befuddled - I thought to myself: “This dude needs professional help.”

Tom and his team, however, promise a far more practical kind of service, assisting academics to: “Get their points across using clear non-academic language”. No doubt this will help a lot of their students, as well as journalists!

The UK Business School Communications Conference was organised by and Mana Communications, held at held at Cass Business School, and sponsored by Grenoble Ecole de Management and Google.