Stories that wow

Posted & filed under Video, Web.

If you want to get the media’s attention, pitch them an unusual story. It’s true. Media love news of the weird. Always has, always will. Why? Because we love it as much as they do. So, we knew we had ourselves a good one when our client came to us with the story of a 5 million-year-old fossil that came from a 7-foot-long fish with fangs like a sabertooth cat. Our interest was piqued, to say the least.

We wanted to know more, so we started asking questions – lots of them. As it turns out, Oregon Imaging Centers (our client), had offered their state-of-the-art CT scanner to take dramatic, cross-sectional images of a very unlikely patient, the skull of a sabertooth salmon (known in the scientific world as Oncorhynchus rastrosus).

You see, in the past, scientists who wanted to study this rare fish fossil had to travel to Eugene, where it is kept at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History under the watchful eyes of Fossil Collections Manager Edward Davis, Ph.D.

With the ultimate goal of uploading the images to the museum’s website, Davis hoped that scientists worldwide would be better able to study the fossil, which promises to offer clues about the ecology of the planet then and now.

Brian Sidlauskas, an assistant professor at the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in Corvallis, was also involved with the project. Sidlauskas and Davis came together after Davis had a chance encounter with Dr. Lee Michels, a retired diagnostic radiologist and former CEO of Oregon Imaging Centers.

Michels, who has had a life-long interest in natural history and once considered being a geologist instead of a radiologist, learned of the fossil when he and Davis met at an event celebrating Oregon’s sesquicentennial in 2009.

Whew! OK, so there’s the who’s who of the story. So now, you might have an idea what was involved in researching and coordinating a story such as this.

Our goal: To get Mr. Salmon (yes, that’s what we call him), two professors (one’s in Eugene, one’s in Corvallis), a retired radiologist (who likes to travel) and several reporters into an in-demand CT room at a busy imaging facility for two hours.

Then came the media pitch. After sending out the press release and fact sheet (let’s stop for a second to consider the amount of research, interviews, writing, approvals and editing that went into these…), we picked up the phone and began making calls.

What we found was that we weren’t even able to get past the words “5-million-year-old sabertooth salmon fossil,” before we were cut off. But instead of the normal “We’re really busy today, we’ll see what we can do” response, the reply was “Cool!”

In this case, hooking the media was the easy part (yes, that was an intentional fishing pun). Now for media day…

As it turns out, one of the professors couldn’t come due to last-minute problems with a grant proposal. Not to worry. We still had one professor who, as it turns out, is pro at speaking. We also had an awesome fossil worthy of photos and video, a retired radiologist willing to put on a tie for the day, and a CT manager who was able to set aside a couple hours of precious business time to welcome the media.

It all took time, but we pulled it off. And the best part? The story made it onto the 5 and 6 p.m. news (see the coverage) and the front page of the local newspaper (read the article). Then it hit the wire and ran in newspapers and on websites around the country (Google it).

When you have a story to tell, especially one that wows, don’t let it slip through your fingers.

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