Be Actionable, Tell Stories and ‘End With a BANG!’ ACS Wins With Innovative Communications Guide

It’s interesting that the 2022 Gold EXCEL Award Winner for Best New Innovation (C&EN’s How to Sell Your Science: The Art of Science Communication) focused on reaching audiences—given that our Editorial Council meeting this week also focused on getting our words out to our audience. As usual with any American Chemical Society product, there’s a lot to learn from how they did it.

“I will never forget the phone call I received from my mother after she opened an electronic copy of my dissertation… Before I could even bring the phone to my ear, I could hear my mom’s deep belly laugh as she cackled, ‘Katie, I don’t know what any of these words mean.’ ¶ I was completely speechless. ¶ How could she not understand?”

Those words came from Kate the Chemist—Kate Biberdorf, a chemist, science entertainer and professor at The University of Texas—at the beginning of a special guide from American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) titled How to Sell Your Science: The Art of Science Communication. The guide, which was part 3 of their email course and won a 2022 Gold EXCEL Award for Best New Innovation, attracted 408 subscribers from 49 countries in just the first two weeks.

Biberdorf goes on to say that given the chance, she would’ve sent a different email to her family telling of her exploits—explaining how her research was used, highlighting her “favorite part of the results,” and sparing them the entire 400-page document.

It was a warm and wonderful way to start this essential guide. Let’s take a look at some of the other things that C&EN got right here. Congratulations to Dorea Reeser, executive editor, for heading up this initiative. (Nominations for our 2023 EXCEL Awards open on Nov. 14.)

Offer a simple sign-up page (pictured above). The only answers people need to give are name, country, email and profession or student status. And their descriptive paragraph is brief (85 words) and to the point: “Science communication is the job of every scientist, and C&EN’s 6-week guide is here to help you communicate your science effectively to audiences, including those outside of your area of research.”

They didn’t overwhelm and made it personal. People could sign up “at any time” to receive the guide and one email per week (on Thursdays). The writers were all science communication influencers “that represent the diversity of our audience, and the tone is personal and inspiring through the anecdotes and advice they share.”

Brought in revenue. The guide was part of four email-courses that generated significant revenue in advertiser underwriting, allowing C&EN’s sales team to price and sell branded versions. Even the sign-up page has a thank you ad for funding support from the Genentech Foundation.

It’s solution-oriented and looks to connect scientists with their audience. The guide “provides advice on topics that are important to scientists, including how to sell your science to your friends and family, create an engaging research poster, give an engaging research talk, get your science in front of journalists, win research funding, and create a website to showcase your work.”

Practices what it preaches. The four main tips it offers are: Start with the big picture; tell them why you care; introduce the science; and end with a BANG! (their all-CAPS). “Leave on a high note.” At the end of the guide, they do what they say and offer this advice: “And if all else fails, blow something up. It works every time.”

Used social media well. They leveraged the social media reach of C&EN, ACS, ACS Education and writer accounts of science communication social media influencers. (Kate the Chemist’s alone must be HUGE – my all-CAPS.) On his LinkedIn page, writer Fernando Gomollon Bel posted this: “I’m super grateful to Dorea and Linda at C&EN for having invited me to this wonderful initiative! If you’re interested in #scicomm and learning how to speak about your research to new audiences, check it out! It’s a totally free subscription, with tips and tricks from several experts in #communications. 😊😎”

They give advice and actionable takeaways… “Tell them why you care. This is your chance to humanize the science and transfer your passion about the material.” “Think of yourself as a popular TikTok star and keep the science short and sweet.” “People are more willing to listen to you if you immediately connect the science to their everyday lives.” “Give a clear, one-sentence summary of the science, and do it as passionately as you can.”

…And warnings. “If you slip up and find yourself going on a tangent about quarks, forgive yourself! The most important thing is that you are out in the real world engaging in conversations about science.”


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