Everyone is so impressed with the stunning communications success of the Kony 2012 campaign. Could it be because they spent more than half their budget on communicating effectively? While not a welcoming thought, it’s how things work in our world today. Get used to it.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE. Some day science grants will have the same budget allocations as the Kony 2012 project.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
How many times can you say this? The science world is slowly absorbing the message. When I was a graduate student, NSF grants didn’t require you to spend anything for communication (“public outreach”). Somewhere back around the time I left the science world they began to require 10% of the budget go to outreach.
There’s a crazy schizophrenia going on with this media attention stuff. EVERYBODY wants attention these days (as predicted by Richard Lanham in his excellent book, “The Economics of Attention,” which I quoted a bunch in my book). There seems to be this general ethic that you must scoff at the idea of seeking and gaining attention. And yet .. EVERYBODY wants it.
Even the most self-serious science bloggers, late at night lie awake thinking, “I wish I had more traffic on my blog.” EVERYBODY wants it.
And when something like the Kony 2012 project finally scores it in a staggeringly successful way, instead of taking an honest, objective look at “How did they do that?” large numbers of people attacked, critiqued, vilified and denigrated the campaign. The answer to the “how?” question is simple — they paid for it.
More than half their budget went to communications. Especially if you add in the salaries of their main players and accept that their main activity was making the media that would gain them the prized “attention.”
YOU WANT SCIENCE TO BE POPULAR LIKE KONY? PAY FOR IT
The biggest science organizations contact me for input on communications. When I say, “Pay me,” they balk and say they have small budgets for communication. And yet, they all dream of making, “viral videos.”
Ahhhhhhh … viral videos … just hearing the words is like heavenly music. I want a viral video. We want a viral video. Our organization wants, needs, lusts for, gets down on the floor and grinds their loins for a viral video campaign, with Kony 2012 being the ultimate orgasmic dream fulfillment.
But, alas, they don’t got the money needed to make it happen. But in the future they will. You watch. That 10% for outreach for NSF will grow to 20, then 30, then 40, then the day will happen when half of the entire budget of an NSF grant will go to hire a p.r. firm, web design firm, graphics firm, communications consultant, and personal publicist for the principal investigators.
You laugh. It’s not that far off. The only question is how much kvetching from the scientists it will be accompanied by.