BRIng It On: Benaroya Research Institute’s Savvy Storytelling

Benaroya Research InstituteDisclosure: Dave works for Benaroya Research Institute (BRI), but I am not paid by them – I’m just an admirer of their work.

Global health topics are a passion of mine. In fact, if you come to dinner on any given night this week, our conversation will range from Ebola, to mental health and addiction, to his dissertation research on Toxoplasma gondii (yeah, it’s a mouthful), to the health care system here and abroad, to infectious diseases and the nagging cough and cold that I’ve had for the past few months. We do talk about other things, I promise, but these are the highlights. When you get a scientist and a communicator together, these are your dinner time topics.

I firmly believe that scientists and communicators should have more discussions like ours for a few reasons. First, it helps the scientist translate their research to the lay public. My motto: if I understand what Dave does, everyone else will. Second, it helps communicators learn the right questions to ask so that they can convey scientific research into the broader context of global health.

Most importantly, we (communicators) want to tell the story of how significant scientific discoveries are making an impact on our world. As a result, the researchers feel more connected to the story of their work and proud of what they do on a daily basis.

I had the pleasure of attending BRI’s Illuminations Luncheon last week. It is an annual event to highlight for donors and the media what progress has been made in the past year and celebrate the achievements of the researchers in the trenches. Since Dave has worked for BRI, I’ve been amazed at how they describe the breakthroughs that they achieve and the passion they have to do this work. Over the past year, their communications approach has emphasized the following lessons:

  1. Simple is best – BRI emphasizes their clean, modern design to let the science explain itself. The BRI team understands that a complex story doesn’t have to be told in a complicated way, and you set the tone by your visual assets.
  2. Clearly and concisely share your collective vision – BRI does this best with their tagline “BRIng It On.” It ties straight to their vision that they should research autoimmune diseases in collaborative ways because there are so many links between them all.
  3. Let the participants tell their connection to your brand – you don’t have to script them – I’ve always said that pictures are able to convey more about your brand or cause than words can convey. Videos with interviews do this job 1,000 times better. BRI just released their latest video about how their fight to understand one autoimmune disease informs them all (i.e. their collective vision). Even though this video is about two minutes longer than recommended by most communicators, it captivated my attention the entire time. Take a look…
  4. Back it up with approachable data – All of the communications they could create would mean nothing if there wasn’t an evidence base. How much more clearly can you put that one in 20 Americans suffers from an autoimmune disease?

Most importantly, as I looked around the room during the Illuminations Luncheon, I saw a number of BRI researchers beaming with pride in their day-to-day work. They might not feel like that all the time – pipetting can only bring you so much joy when the finish line is years down the road. But, after seeing Dave smile and knowing that he feels connected to BRI’s mission, I have to applaud the BRI communications team for doing such a phenomenal job.

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