Awards
Specific Media Relations Programs: Georgia Tech Research Institute - Silver Medal

Category 8: Specific Media Relations Programs
Georgia Tech Research Institute – Promoting Non-Military Research in a Military Focused Organization

Contact: Kirk J. Englehardt, director of communication, 400 10th St., NW, Atlanta, GA 30332, Phone: (404) 407-7280, e-mail: kirk.englehardt@gtri.gatech.edu

The Georgia Tech Research Institute is the nonprofit applied research arm of the Georgia Institute of Technology. GTRI employs more than 1,200 people who work in seven technically focused research laboratories, a number of administrative department, and 13 field offices/research locations.

Nearly 80 percent of GTRI’s funded research comes from the US military or military-related organizations. Because a sudden downturn in federal military spending could have a tremendously negative impact on the organization, GTRI’s leadership has sought ways to increase the number of non-military research contracts. Diversifying the customer base will ensure that GTRI remains a strong and financially solvent independent research organization for years to come.

Planning: The first step in obtaining new non-military research contracts (industry and non-defense federal agencies) is to promote GTRI’s current non-military research programs. An effort was launched to identify specific projects that would help put GTRI “on the map” as more than just a military research organization. Meetings with research lab directors and frontline scientists identified six innovative stories. They were selected because each has the potential to make a tangible impact on individuals, the environment, and/or the future.

  • Accessibility Testing: When the designers of photocopiers, ATMs, cell phones, televisions, printers, scanners, and other equipment need help determining how well these devices can be used by people with disabilities, they can turn to the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
  • Vein Finder: When medics are treating trauma patients, every second counts. A team of GTRI researchers has developed an inexpensive, hand-held device that uses Doppler ultrasound technology to find veins quickly.
  • Chemical Companion: To help first responders and hazardous materials (hazmat) teams, GTRI researchers have developed the “Chemical Companion.” This software tool provides detailed information on 130 of the most common chemicals associated with “hazmat” incidents.
  • Indoor Air Quality Facility: Using a new room-sized environmental test chamber, more than a dozen smaller chambers and a mass spectrometric center, GTRI scientists are helping manufacturers meet those international standards to minimize emissions.
  • Medical Device Testing Facility: Georgia Tech’s Medical Device/E3 Test Center helps manufacturers improve compatibility between implantable medical devices and systems that radiate electromagnetic energy (like retail electronic article surveillance systems).
  • Fuel Cell Powered Aircraft: GTRI researchers conducted successful test flights of a hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft believed to be the largest to fly on a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell using compressed hydrogen – making Georgia Tech the first university to accomplish this task.

Goals/Objectives:

  1. Obtain widespread media coverage of GTRI’s non-military research programs, and
  2. Increase the number of non-military research contracts and collaborators.

Intended Audience: There was a tremendous amount of research done to identify the specific stories to promote, prepare al materials, target their release, and maximize their effectiveness. A series of meeting were held with research laboratory directors and front-line researchers to identify appropriate stories to promote, and audiences within the research community to target. Many mainstream and trade media outlets were identified as appropriate for reaching potential collaborators and new research customers.

Solution Overview: This effort was aimed at promoting research programs that showcased GTRI’s non-military research activities. Targeting the information to appropriate trade and mainstream media, we reached many of the specific individuals interested in collaborating with or contracting with GTRI on current and future research. Laboratory directors helped identify appropriate stories to promote and individual researchers helped determine appropriate audiences for their research area (this was different for each technology we promoted).

Implementation and Challenges: The biggest challenge was identifying the appropriate audience for each technology, or research area we were promoting. Each of the six areas had a different intended audience. This was resolved through discussions between the communication team and the front line scientists and engineers. Once the key audience for each story was determined, a writer was assigned to each story – interviewing the primary researchers and preparing magazine-style articles for each. Professional photographs were also shot for each story.

A targeted list of appropriate media outlets was created for each specific story. This included a large number of trade and industry publications and Web sites – which are largely read by those with the authority to determine how companies and non-military agencies spend their research budgets.

A news release was distributed to targeted media for each of the stories and posted on the news release distribution sites EurekAlert and Newwise. They all were also featured on the GTRI Web site, the Georgia Tech Research News and Publications Office site, and the university’s Web page. The stories were also released using GTRI’s RSS Podcast feed, as well made available for download on the GTRI Web site. Raw sound bites of researchers speaking about their work were also uploaded to the GTRI Web site and made available for radio news stations to download and integrate into their broadcasts.

Every story was also featured in Georgia Tech’s Research Horizons magazine. Three stories were also included in GTRI’s 2005 Annual Report which was released in March 2006.

Resources: The GTRI communications office works with the Georgia Tech Research news and information office, which handles story preparation and collaborates on media relations activities. All photography is done on a freelance basis. This effort was undertaken by one member of the GTRI communications office and three members of the news and publications office. All work was done under an existing annual contract and required no additional funds to accomplish. Each group also had internal Web support which assisted with the Web postings. All podcasts were produced by the GTRI communications office using exiting resources and talent.

Results:

  1. Accessibility Testing: Featured in more than 120 news outlets around the country including the Associated Press, Washington Post, Wired News, Forbes, USA Today, CNN.com. CBS News.com. LA Times, Yahoo! Health, MSN Money, Macon Telegraph, Yahoo! Finance, Newsday, Business Week, MSNBC.com. PN Magazine (cover story for disabled community magazine), Arthritis Today magazine (full page feature), Athens Banner-Herald, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Georgia-Times Union, Miami Herald, The Hartford Courant, AATCC Review (international magazine for textile design, processing, and testing), Television: Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science.

    From the Researcher: “We’ve received a lot of recognition in our area of research. In fact we just presented at a conference (in mid-October) and I couldn’t count the huge number of people who are still talking about the articles that ran back in May. The story definitely ‘has legs’. Its helping us solidify our reputation as leaders in human factors research. We’ve also been invited to submit white papers to several organizations including a dental device manufacturer and a packaging company. We also heard from people around the country doing related or similar research, which may lead to future collaborations. We were also contacted by many people interested in being subjects for our research – volunteers like that are very hard to recruit.” – GTRI researcher Brad Fain
  2. Vein Finder: Featured on CNN as part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s weekly “House Calls” program. This project was also featured in The Economist, R&D Magazine, Design Engineering magazine, Prevention, the Buffalo News, Appliance Design magazine, RT Image magazine, EDN, Medical Imaging magazine, Emergency Medical Services magazine, The Times of London, and the Tampa Tribune. It also appeared on Livescience.com, Yahoo! News, Medgadget.com, firefiightingnews.com, The Engineer Online, and What’s Next in Health Online. Television: CNN Health Headlines

    From the Researcher: “We are still getting feedback on the vein finder press releases, mostly from medical practitioners asking about availability and pricing. Within the first few months of the releases, we were contacted by several biomed companies who were interested in either teaming or distributing the device.” – GTRI researcher Mike Gray
  3. Chemical Companion: Featured on UPI newswire, National Defense, Law Enforcement, Medical News, Chemical Online, Physorg.com, Reliable Plant Magazine, Chemlin Virtual Chemistry library, Metropolitan Medical Response System online, Fire and Emergency Response online, and Technology News Daily.

    From the Researcher: “GTRI researcher Christine Baxter shared a spreadsheet she created to log all of the contacts she received as a result of the media relations effort on this project. The initial release was issued on April 10, 2006 – by April 26, 2006 she had already been contacted by more than 75 potential collaborators. The contacts represented a wide range of potential non-military customers including emergency medical services firefighters, hazardous materials teams, emergency management officials, and law enforcement. The contacts came from far and wide – including 23 different states as well as Australia, Canada, Israel, and Dominican Republic, and Chile.
  4. Indoor Air Quality Facility: Featured in the print or electronic versions of National Geographic magazine, AATC Review, All Headline News (a supplier of content to Web sites), The Engineer, Atomic Spectrocopy, Building Services Management, Innovations Report, Environmental Protection, Pollution Online, Blogspan.com. Science Daily, Medical News Today, Engineered Systems, IAQ Times, Interiors and Sources Magazine, and Environmental Design and Construction Magazine. Television: CBS 46 News Atlanta.

    From the researcher: “That story you did has generated quite a bit of feedback, resulting in at least two contracts and inquiries. Also, the National Geographic photo shoot. One contract was for $170,000, and the other for $35,445. In addition, there is another contract that looks like it might come through to use the chambers.” GTRI research Victor DeJesus
  5. Medical Device Testing Facility: Featured in the print or electronic versions of Medical News Today, Medical Product News, Medical Design, Interference Technology, Mechanical Engineering magazine.

    From the researcher: “Here’s the first contract we can directly attribute to the recent publicity for the GTRI Medical Device Test Center. Thanks again for all your help. Abbott Laboratories: $41,875.” GTRI researcher Ralph Herkert
  6. Fuel Cell Powered Aircraft: Featured in InTech, Fuel Cell Today, Atlanta Journal Constitution (print and online), The Engineer Online, Technology News Daily, UV Online, CCN Magazine, Discovery Channel Canada, CNET News, Scientific-American.com. Electronics Weekly, TechJounral South, Spacewar, LiveScience.com.MSNBC.com. What’s Next in Science and Technology, Green Car Congress (blog), Newnan Times-Herald, Machine Design Magazine. Television: CBS 46 News Atlanta and HD News (part of Dish Network).

    From the researcher: “Talk about impact…I walked into a meeting with the Irish Secretary-General of Communications and Natural Resources, and his very first remark was to exclaim about the news of our fuel cell UAV! I came to talk with him about Internet television, and we spent half the meeting talking about sustainable energy. He brought with him one of his senior executives who have the responsibility for developing the research agenda for Ireland in sustainable energy. With that lead into the discussions, you can imagine how the rest of our meeting went. Two hours later I left with this department’s commitment to help make our test bed (Internet television) a national success and to find ways immediately to work with us in sustainable energy research as well. This would be like having both the FCC and DOE commit to endorsing our projects. Keep up the great work on getting the word our about our research.” – GTRI deputy director, David Parekh