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The six-day path to national saturation

Chances are you’ve seen or heard about UNL sociology professor Julia McQuillan’s recently published study on pregnancy intentions among U.S. women. In short, McQuillan, who heads UNL’s Bureau of Sociological Research, uncovered in a national survey a broad swath of apathy among sexually active women — about one-quarter of them are, in the words of the study, “OK either way”  about getting pregnant.

The study dug deeply into women’s attitudes, influences and pressures regarding pregnancy, and pulled back a wide array of data that was somewhat overwhelming at first blush. But it was clear that, when evaluating the research, one figure — that 23 percent of women said they were ambivalent, and undecided about motherhood — clearly stood out. Often when reading voluminous studies that are chock-full of nuanced findings, it can be difficult to extract a “thin-slice” as profound as that. But in this case, I could see the headlines about one in four women being ambivalent about kids flashing across TV screens and newspapers around the country pretty easily. We just had to get it into the right reporters’ hands.

The best thing about this process was that I was given a copy of the study early, which allowed me time to evaluate which media outlets would be best for Prof. McQuillan’s study. About a month before the study appeared in Maternal and Child Health Journal, we approached Sharon Jayson of USA TODAY. Sharon was interested and said she would write something about its findings when McQuillan’s study was posted online. She also asked for exclusivity, which, given that USA TODAY has 2 million readers, we gladly granted.

On Thursday, May 6 — three days before Mother’s Day — the study was included in a story about motherhood by USA TODAY, along with a number of quotes from Prof. McQuillan. As fate would have it, the UNL study would be released the same day as a Pew Research Center survey on motherhood, and so the USA TODAY piece bundled the two studies together into one roundup story.

It’s hard to say that we were disappointed with a mention in USA TODAY, but we knew that Sharon was only able to hit the tip of the iceberg with her article. We also knew that Prof. McQuillan’s study had much more to offer on the national landscape. So, once Sharon’s story was published, we decided to flood the zone with the story and see how much traction it would receive. Over the next six days, the study showed up on hundreds if not thousands of websites around the globe, was reported on by broadcast and print outlets across the country, and spurred a lot of buzz and online conversation among women that added a raft of anecdotal evidence to Prof. McQuillan’s science.

How did it happen? We took a double-barreled approach, hitting both targeted pitches to specific reporters at national media outlets and also distributing a pre-written news release to national outlets via EurekAlert! and Newswise, as well as sending it to local and regional outlets through our traditional UNL network.

By the end of the day Thursday, versions of the story had moved to a number of online news outlets, including places that affiliate with EurekAlert! and Newswise such as esciencenews.com, physorg.com and generef.com. The initial hits also included Yahoo! News, the popular science webzine LiveScience, and a brief mention the feminist blog Jezebel.com in addition to the USA TODAY hit.

On Friday, things began to accelerate. LiveScience has a number of news partnerships, including Fox News, which picked up a version of the story and circulated it to its affiliates. New iterations of the article began appearing at AOL News, Glamour and The Village Voice. Julia Baird, a columnist for Newsweek, tweeted about the study, too.

By Monday, the story had gained more momentum. United Press International picked it up and distributed a rewritten version to its hundreds of affiliates, which include many major metro broadcasters across the United States. News radio began chattering about Prof. McQuillan’s study; before long another wave of motherhood and parenting blogs had found the findings, prompting a new round of discussion among bloggers.

Two days later, one of our targeted pitches bore fruit — CNN.com produced a story featuring Prof. McQuillan’s findings, and the story saw new life again, moving across blogs, websites and major outlets like U.S. News and World Report. Six days after it first mentioned the study, Jezebel.com ruminated about its ramifications in a prominent blog post on the popular site.

We had a lot of things go right for us on this one. First, we had a very cooperative researcher who afforded us the time to pitch the study before it went public. Second, we had a foothold with a major media outlet from the outset, which helped give the story legitimacy in the eyes of other national media. Third, we took full advantage of the tools that were at our disposal to spread the word far and wide. And last, we spent the valuable time cultivating relationships with national reporters who, in turn, produced a lot of copy on this study.

The result was a lot of steady, constant coverage of UNL research across the country (and globe) over a full week. We couldn’t be happier with the results.

2 Responses to “The six-day path to national saturation”

  1. [...] We had particular success on her May study about U.S. women’s attitudes on motherhood. Here’s a roundup of how that story took off. Dave Specht’s innovative course on family entrepreneurship. One of the most interesting [...]

  2. [...] – And … remember Julia McQuillan? She’s becoming what we like to call a Perpetual Placement — an expert who reporters seek out first for comment on a particular topic. In the last two weeks, the UNL sociologist has done interviews for both Glamour and Fit Pregnancy magazines on women’s attitudes toward pregnancy. Those interviews are aftershocks from the national saturation we helped her work to receive back in May, as you may recall. [...]