Jordan K. Karlitz, MD, FACG

Evolution of Media Coverage during the ACG Annual Scientific Meeting

Long gone are the days when media coverage at the ACG meeting consisted of reporters visiting the ACG press room with pen and pad in hand to interview abstract presenters on their high-profile studies. While press coverage for the annual meeting has consistently resulted in national and international visibility for the College, researchers and their work, the advent of social and digital media has expanded this reach exponentially. Last year, for instance, more than 40 researchers were featured on the new ACG Blog, where they provided key findings and insights. As a result, the media was able to easily access the best of ACG 2014, allowing more research findings than ever before to be shared with the public, generating media coverage all over the world.

One of the highlights of my role as PR Committee Chair is leading the Abstract Review Call. The purpose of the call is for the PR Committee, as a group, to decide the most newsworthy science among all selected abstracts and determine the scientific findings and trends for ACG to highlight for ACG 2015 media outreach.

ACG has also embraced journalists’ increasing use of multimedia during the annual scientific meeting by providing designated video and audio space in the ACG press room. Last year, dozens of abstract authors, College leaders and GI experts were interviewed on camera for a range of media outlets, and the ACG press team is consistently asked for headshots of abstract authors and abstract-related graphics and/or images to include with their story packages.

While the ACG Blog has fast become a valuable vehicle for rapid and widespread distribution of scientific findings unveiled during the annual meeting, any abstract accepted by ACG has the potential to generate media coverage, whether the abstract was selected as one of the most newsworthy by the PR Committee or not. In the following section, I provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding annual scientific meetings abstracts and media coverage based on lessons learned from my own experience as well as insight from the ACG communications team:

What do abstract presenters need to know about media interactions at the ACG meeting?

The most important thing that abstract presenters must be aware of is the fact that their research needs to reach two audiences: healthcare providers attending the meeting and reporters who have the potential to widely distribute information in a rapid fashion to a more lay audience. Hence, presenters need to diligently prepare in order to assure that the information presented is relayed in an appropriate manner for both of these audiences. If preparations are only made for interactions with healthcare providers at the meeting, abstract presenters may be taken off guard when they are approached by reporters.

How should abstract presenters prepare for the meeting to assure smooth interactions with health care professional attendees and the media?

The most important thing is to anticipate the needs and interests of your diverse audiences. Presenters will likely feel more comfortable relaying scientific information to healthcare professional attendees, as this is the type of audience that they have spent years interacting with throughout medical school, post-graduate training and in clinical or academic practice. Preparations should be made to concisely present information and anticipate questions from the audience on topics that may only be peripherally related to the material that is being presented in either poster or oral presentation form. This, of course, can be stressful, particularly when dealing with large audiences at a national meeting that are speckled with experts on the topic you are presenting, but this is the paradigm we are familiar with based on our medical training.

Interactions with the media, on the other hand, may take us by surprise. Questions may be less scientific and more focused on trying to get the presenter to make generalized statements about patient care issues that can be extrapolated to the general public. This, compounded with the potential for this information to be widely disseminated through the national and international media within a matter of minutes or hours, makes it exceedingly important for presenters to anticipate and prepare for such interactions before they occur.

From my experience as a first-time plenary presenter at last year’s ACG meeting in Philadelphia, I would recommend that one tries to prepare several succinct and consistent answers to potential media-related questions that you may anticipate based on your research. It is critical that you feel comfortable with your statements being relayed to large audiences that extend well beyond the walls of the convention center. The last thing we want to happen is to walk away from an interview with the feeling that one misspoke and that the information is already out there in the digital landscape.

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About Dr. Karlitz

Jordan Karlitz, MD, FACG, Division of Gastroenterology, Tulane University School of Medicine, is Chair of ACG Public Relations Committee. His latest research involving the study of colorectal cancer in the Louisiana Acadian region was published in Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology in October 2014, and has subsequently received widespread media coverage, which helped him secure a grant for further study. At ACG 2014, he presented Oral 27, the first population-based, statewide study in the U.S. to quantitate Lynch syndrome screening rates by microsatellite instability and immunohistochemistry, and assess the timing of these results in relation to surgery. The results suggested that in young colorectal cancer patients (age 50 and under) who may be at increased risk, screening rates for Lynch syndrome are low, and results are infrequently available prior to colonic resection. Rural location and care at public hospitals are inversely correlated with testing, suggesting disparities in access to specialized services. This data was recently published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.