Getting the Word Out

[Notes taken during September 2010 meeting at NEH]

NEH Communications Office

Paula Wasley: – 202-606-8424
Meredith Hindley: – 202-606-8452

  • Can provide advice on how to pitch your project to the media, write up a press release, locate contact info for the media.
  • They’d love to get updates on how your project is doing
  • They’d love to get any press releases or news articles about the grant project

Let your institution know

  • U Media office, alum mag, student newspaper, dean’s office
  • Elevator Pitch
    • Develop a good “elevator pitch” about not only your project but also about the digital humanities

Selling Your Project

  • strong visuals: photos that are dynamic, natural, people interacting with their project or project subject, rather than posed pix
  • clear sense about what’s unique or interesting about your project
  • conversely, can you show that your project is part of a larger trend of some kind?
  • timeliness / context
  • Demonstrable impact
  • Webpage with more info

Press Interviews

  • be available
  • be prepared
  • keep it simple: avoid jargon or technical speak
  • is there an anecdote you can share? makes your project more “relatable” to a general audience
  • don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • Please include a link to the NEH and include the new NEH logo:
  • Brett Bobley: getting stories about your work published in the media can help you get grants. Grant applications are peer-reviewed, and if your peers have never heard of you or the project that you’re working on, then you’re much less likely to get funded.

Adrian Wisnicki

  • An article about their Livingstone project is in the most recent issue of Humanities magazine published by the NEH
  • Their first story wasn’t about the project but about work leading up to the project, one particular letter that they were working on, work that demonstrated what their project is about
  • See, for example: “Researchers reveal Dr. Livingstone’s darkest hour through lost letters

Prepare for press coverage

  • Think about the difference between what’s significant to scholars / scholarly peers and what’s going to appeal to a more general audience
  • Have one person coordinate the press packet
  • If you’re going to have a variety of documents about your project for a variety of audiences, then use a standard format.
    • They used a question and answer format: make it easy for another user to adopt and adapt
  • Contact a journalist and be prepared to explain the following:
    • What’s the story?
    • Who’s the audience?
    • Are different audiences going to be interested in different aspects of the story?
    • Contact the relevant press venues about a week before launch.
    • Choose a good spokesperson: someone who knows how to explain what you’re up to, who doesn’t share too much information, who knows how to emphasize the most important points in an appealing and understandable way
    • Practice your answers to predictable questions: come up with really easy, digestible answers.
    • Be as careful as you can about explaining your project, but understand that people are going to get things wrong sometimes.

Craft a press release

  • full press release
  • link to sample images
  • link to project demo website
  • full press packet for download
  • link to Livingstone Online (publisher of project results)

Create a press packet (here’s an example)

  • Press Release
  • Two Sample JPEGs
  • Briefing: Livingstone’s Letter from Bambarre [demo project]
  • Briefing: Livingstone’s Nyangwe Diary
  • Briefing: Livingstone Online
  • Briefing: The science behind the project
  • Briefing: The David Linvingstone Centre, Blantyre, Scotland
  • Briefing: The National Library of Scotland
  • Briefing: Biographies of Adrian S. Wisnicki and Debbie Harrison
  • Briefing: Birkbeck College, University of London
  • Briefing: Early Manuscripts Electronic Library

Sharon Leon

  • CHNM thinks a great deal about outreach
  • Many of their projects have a person whose responsibilities include (to a great extent) outreach


  • Think about the “ecosystem” in which your project exists: what are the other, similar projects; who are the other, related scholars and developers?
  • Make your projects interoperable with other projects, either in terms of code and data or in terms of intellectual concerns

Conversation (in various media)

  • Talk about your projects: go where your users are
    • presentations at conferences
    • contributions to listservs
    • ads in journals
    • social media: maybe get a twitter account, but definitely use a hashtag on Twitter; use YouTube and create screencasts
  • Have a launch and then lots of followup
    • Not enough to have a big launch and then nothing else
    • Talk about developments
    • Talk about the people involved
    • Provide something to keep users coming back

Provide SWAG

  • Put a line into your grant: even if it’s just $500 for a year
  • Bookmarks, stickers, t-shirts
  • Businesscard-sized items
  • Postcard-sized items
  • If you have a little bit more money, you can make flash drives
  • If you have no money, you can set up a CafePress store
  • Distribute the swag at various events
  • Make the full range of swag available on your web site

Debbie Boyer

Be generous

  • with your time
  • with your data
  • with your tools
  • For example, PhillyHistory fed their photos to an EveryBlock project and visitors to PhillyHistory increased 10-fold

Be responsive

  • If people write to you, write back
  • If people Tweet you, Tweet back
  • Don’t be a faceless entiity only interested in scholarship
  • Participate in a conversation with a diverse audience

Use your collaborations

  • If you’re involved with other organizations, make sure they all get notified of any blog posts or press releases you put out

Use your resources

  • For example, week or 2, a food blog in Philadelphia runs a photo from PhillyHistory of a location as it appeared in the past and asks its readers to guess what current restaurant is there now.

Have great visuals

  • Make high-res images available for things like press releases
  • Offer to provide more images if someone want them

Be mindful of your diverse audience

  • Not everyone will understand things in the same way
  • Not everyone will be attracted to the same content

Be diverse in marketing

  • Use as many different venues as you can
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