We’re very proud to work with many of the UK’s foremost engineering companies as well as the some of the most respected institutions representing the sector. It won’t come as a surprise to you then that today being International Women in Engineering Day is the least excuse we needed to make this week all about our special interest! One of the highlights was attending the UCL Centre for Engineering Education’s In Conversation event ‘How Can Engineering Be Better Represented In The Media?’ on Monday. The audience was almost evenly split into engineers / engineering educators and those who communicate engineering – we AprilSix Proof-ers were proud to fly the (relatively small) flag of PRs who specialise in the area.
The panel discussion, co-sponsored by the Association of British Science Writers, consisted of media spanning broadcast through to trade. Rob Bell of Channel 5 and BBC2 fame (across the team here we majorly fangirl-ed over his ‘The Tube: Going Underground’ and ‘Britain’s Greatest Bridges’ programmes!) gave some useful insights into what helps make an engineering story good for telly while The Economist’s Science Editor, Geoff Carr gave a view of what his readers are interested in and print outlets may prioritise. Katia Moscovitch, Professional Engineering’s Editor-in-Chief provided balanced discussions around how media affects the public perception of engineering.
Moderator Sunny Bains, a tech journalist and Editorial Director of Engineering Inspiration, did a great job of directing discussions around whether the media neglect engineering and how can engineers / their PR teams ensure it is communicated better. We were pleased to note that some of the most pertinent discussions were ones we often have in our office.
The biggest issue is PERCEPTION. All ages and sexes have an interest in ‘engineering’ they just don’t know it as that! As TV gets into everyone’s home Rob reckons the coverage has a role to play in this area; to bridge that gap between engineers and a non-specialist audience. Perhaps in some instances this needs to be at the sacrifice of the technical detail and focus on the engineering ‘solution’ (the strong bridge, the fast car) rather than the engineering (suspension, crankshafts) itself?
Industry, educators, and role models need to work together to enhance perception. This was echoed by Katia – she believes engineering stories need to be engaging, interesting and accessible for all and to do so engineers need to better represent themselves. There is a lack of ‘heroes’ in engineering. Technology has Steve Jobs, business has Richard Branson and science has Brian Cox – where are the ‘cool’ engineers? Even Elon Musk doesn’t use the word ‘engineering’!
Geoff on the other hand doesn’t think there is so much of a collaborative responsibility – journalists do not exist to sell engineering, their goal is to sell papers. When he considers a good story he wants it to fit one of two areas – either it’s a ‘widget’ or a ‘Big Idea’. A new product, an engine, a robot – all standalone, widget stories. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation – a group of stories which together present a ‘Big Idea’ feature.
The biggest theme of the evening was actually the most heartening thing to hear from an engineering PR’s point of view – the media do want engineering stories; they are relevant, popular with readers and viewers alike and journalists who cover them enjoy the opportunity. BUT they are doing this for their audiences, not their sources. In that vein, another area of debate throughout the evening was around the use of the term ‘engineering’ itself? Should we be using it more to get it into the public consciousness or give up the good fight and just use ‘technology’ or ‘innovation’ instead?
What do you think?