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Its a Big (Media) World SIOP Members Urged to be Proactive in Telling I-Os Story

Clif Boutelle

A panel of experts, speaking at the SIOP conference in Los Angeles, pulled no punches in offering their views why SIOP members are not involved with the media more than they are.

We dont tell an interesting story, we speak in a language that only I-O people understand, and we do a lot of microlevel research not related to organizational-level problems that concern managers and executives, said Ben Schneider, senior research fellow at Valtera (formerly PRA).

This was only the opening salvo in a session that featured candid and forceful statements as to why I-O lacks visibility in the business community and with the media.

Entitled Gaining Visibility for Your Work: Learn From the Experts, the panel was comprised of people with considerable experience and success in dealing with the news media. In addition to Schneider, the panel included William Byham, chair and CEO of Development Dimensions International; Eduardo Salas, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida; and Frank Landy, CEO, Litigation Support Group, SHL. Leaetta Hough, founder and president of the Dunnette Group, Ltd., moderated the session, which was developed by Visibility Committee chair Wendy Becker of the University at Albany, and Mary Doherty Kelly of Valtera.

We are boring in a lot of ways, Landy admitted, and our scientific training leads us to speak in indefinite terms like maybe and could. 

Salas agreed, urging SIOP members to not be afraid of saying what they know or to provide their opinions. Reporters are interested in your expertise and insight. They are not interested in scientific or technical answers, he said.

Byham said SIOP members need to be more proactive in their relationships with the news media. The press isnt going to call out of the blue. They have their own contact lists and I-O people need to get on those lists. He added that when I-O people are better known (by the media), greater recognition for I-O will follow.

Salas pointed out that I-O people already have a certain degree of visibility, but what is really needed is impact, which can be gained by telling business leaders and others who we are, what we do, and what value we can provide them. In other words, we need to promote ourselves more than we do, and the media is key to doing that.

He also said I-O scientists need to do a better job of translating the research they do into understandable results that will be useful to managers. 

Schneider added that I-O people should be working on issues that executives are concerned about and less on what individual researchers think is important. Identifying business problems and offering solutions in the language of managers and other executives is key to getting attention for I-O and a place at the decision-making table, he said.

Business managers do not understand us, he said. Noting that managers dont read scholarly journals, Schneider said SIOP members should direct their expertise to outlets that managers read, such as the Harvard Business Review. No one has ever called me about an article in a scholarly journal.

Salas agreed. SIOP members should be publishing more in trade journals as well as practitioner-related publications. We dont value those kinds of publications as much as we do scholarly journals, he said.
Schneider said he has edited 33 books and one of those, entitled Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job, has outsold the other 32 combined. Its based on research on executive careers by the Center for Creative Leadership. The successes and failures of executives were something managers could understand and wanted to read. The research in it was relevant to them.

The panelists also suggested some proactive measures for gaining greater interest from the media and, ultimately, business managers.

Byham cautioned against measuring success by whether the story appears in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. There are plenty of outlets to consider, he noted. Among them, the trade press, including Training magazine, HR Magazine, and the Conference Board; industry-specific publications and newsletters; and the local media.

Reporters are eager to find a local connection to a story, he said. When The Apprentice became a hot television show, Pittsburgh reporters contacted Byham for his take on the program. Many local stories go into syndication, which gives the story a far broader reach, he added.

In any case, developing relationships with editors and writers will lead to greater exposure and mentions in the news media.

Salas said he contacted the workplace writer at the Orlando Sentinel and that has grown into a productive relationship. In addition to using Salas and other I-O people to contribute to stories, the reporter is now doing a monthly workplace column called Ask the Professor, which provides answers to workplace problems. Its an opportunity to translate science into real life and to educate readers about I-O, he explained.

Landy said he sometimes e-mails comments and story ideas to columnists. These people need ideas (for their columns), he said. He said he developed a productive relationship with a science writer from the New York Times through e-mails.

Landy also suggested op ed page pieces as a means of putting an I-O slant on current business issues. Op ed pieces respond to a story that previously appeared in the paper. He suggested first sending a query to the editor with a brief outline of the editorial, including the main point of the piece. These kind of issues have a short life, so you need to move quickly. You cant spend a lot of time thinking about it, he said.

Examples and story angles that are counterintuitive to popular thought are always attractive to the news media, Schneider said. 

Byham noted that survey results are also a credible way to get into the media. Reporters base a lot of their stories on survey results and I-O people do a lot of surveys, so it can be a good match. He said that DDI will often include questions about a current hot button trend that can be used to attract media attention.

Just be more aggressive in telling people what you know, Landy concluded.

I-O people have a great deal of untapped expertise to offer the media. Think creatively and develop relationships with reporters. Greater visibility will be the result.

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