Messaging and PR Lessons from NPR and the Nobel Prize in Medicine

Oct 08, 2013 Beth Monaghan

Message clarity and simplicity are some of the most fundamental, and often overlooked, tenets of good PR. The average newspaper is written at the third grade reading level, yet innovative companies often ignore one of the easiest ways to draw attention: storytelling.

I was reminded of this importance yesterday on my drive to work by NPR’s Steve Inskeep and Richard Harris, who reported on the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine for “Morning Edition.”

James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof shared this year’s prize for their discoveries of “machinery regulating vesicle traffic,” as NPR’s segment noted. This is not the language of the average third-grader, or the average NPR listener.

So Inskeep and Harris spent most of the piece providing real-world analogies and plain language descriptions of the discoveries to make the story accessible.

The discoveries have massive implications. Yet, without an easy-to-understand explanation of their impact, no one would know (save the Nobel Prize Committee, of course).

So how did they describe it? You can read or listen to it for yourself, but here are the basics of this very important story:

What is the discovery? Inskeep opened with this: he said that the three scientists had, “figured out how cells package up material like hormones, and how they deliver those materials to other cells. This is one of the most basic functions for living cells, and diseases can result when the machinery goes awry….”

How does it work? Inskeep provided this: “This is how cells communicate with each other. The cells transmit substances to one another. This is the phone line. This is the FedEx system.”

Why is it important? Harris made it very clear: “….this is very, very basic stuff that you need to understand if you’re going to cure diseases like diabetes or some neurological diseases or immune system dysfunctions.”

I am certain that the scientific community would laugh at this simplified explanation. However, it is instructive for communications professionals. At its heart, a successful PR program must tell a compelling story. And a company that has a transformational breakthrough is deserving of media attention. Yet, a company that cannot translate that breakthrough into everyday language will never be heard beyond its own community.


Topics: Messaging, Public Relations, PR
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.

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