Nowak Delivers Ellis N. Brandt Lecture

Posted on: February 18, 2014

brandt-WPProfessor Glen Nowak, director of Grady College's Center for Health and Risk Communication at the University of Georgia and former head of media relations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), delivered this year's Ellis N. Brandt Lecture on Public Relations in the Public Interest on Feb. 11 before a packed audience in our largest auditorium.

Drawing upon his 14 years of experience in working at the CDC, Nowak's lecture looked at some of the things that make it so challenging to talk about health and science.

In the first part of his talk, "Communicating about Health, Medicine and Science: How Hard Can That Be?" he discussed what he learned from his interactions with doctors and scientists while working for the CDC and the things that made communications sometimes difficult or challenging.

"Doctors and scientists typically don't have a lot of formal training or experience in communications, but they want to become better communicators. They want to reach an audience," Nowak said.

The second part of Nowak's talk looked at strategies and things you can do to increase your likelihood of communication success and the elements to creating effective communications.

"One of the most effective things that we tried to teach our scientists and doctors when it came to communications was to get comfortable with using the principles often associated with risk communications," Nowak said. "Those principles include such things as being open and transparent, particularly about things you don't know, trying to foreshadow how things may play out, acknowledging uncertainties that you may not know how something is going to work out and be willing and able to say that, expressing and having empathy, and that often gets into being able to look at the world through your target audience. What are their concerns? How is your advice going to play into their lives?

"Those are some of the most important things you can do as a communicator. Use those principles that I think are too often left in the realm of risk communications but actually service really well in a lot of other contexts."

Nowak has experience in managing and implementing health and risk communications programs, media relations, health information campaigns and social marketing. Besides his role at the University of Georgia, he also serves as a senior communications consultant for the Task Force for Global Health.

"One of the things that has helped me throughout my career is to be a good writer. I was going to be an aspiring journalist and so early on I took a lot of journalism courses and I learned how to write. I learned how to write under deadlines. I also learned how to ask good questions," Nowak said.

"Very often, if you are going to work with scientists and doctors, it's being able to do a couple of things: one is being able to ask them good questions to be able to find out what they really are trying to say and how to say it in terms that a broader audience can understand. And the second thing is being able to be a good communicator, being able to take what they say or what they are trying to say and put that in a different context, whether it's on a website, a presentation or in a press release."

The annual Ellis N. Brandt Lecture is sponsored by a generous endowment established in the mid-1990s by the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation in honor of Ellis N. "Ned" Brandt. Now retired, Brandt was a public relations leader for Dow Chemical Company. This was the first endowed professorship in the Advertising + Public Relations department and in the College of Communications Arts and Sciences.

The current Brandt Chair is Associate Professor John Besley, who joined the Advertising + Public Relations faculty in 2012.

The 2014 Ellis N. Brandt Lecture was co-hosted by the Brandt Chair, MSU's chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), and the Central Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (CMPRSA).

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