With the massive media coverage UTMB has received of late, I decided to sit down with Media Relations Director Raul Reyes for a glimpse into his work life. From the Ebola outbreak to chikungunya to our researchers’ recent fat-burning discovery, UTMB has been making major news and Reyes and his team have been working hard, behind the scenes, to make it all come together.
“My team and I are the people behind the curtains,” said Reyes. Their work starts with what Reyes calls “planting seeds.”
“A lot of the coverage we’ve received lately is the result of our reaching out to key media and letting them know about the experts we have at UTMB,” he said. This was done months in advance and is part of Reyes’ duties as media relations director.
And the seed planting paid off big. When the recent Ebola outbreak affected two U.S. citizens, the media reached out in droves to UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert, a 25-year-plus veteran in Ebola research. Geisbert was interviewed and quoted by top tier outlets CNN, CNN International, CBS News, USA Today, The New York Times, TIME, Washington Post as well as local media outlets such as the Houston Chronicle and KTRK-TV.
“One day we had Geisbert in our TV studio doing an interview with CNN, and in the middle of that interview I got a call from CBS News, requesting him for another interview,” said Reyes. “So in one day Geisbert interviewed with CNN, CNN International, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC.” National and international media coverage of that magnitude helps bolster UTMB’s reputation as a world-class institution with expertise in research, clinical care and medical education that can improve the lives of millions.
UTMB’s Thomas Ksiazek, Alex Bukreyev and Frederick Murphy, all veteran Ebola researchers, were also quoted in national media. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, researcher Scott Weaver was interviewed by several media outlets including NBC News and the Washington Post for his expertise about the chikungunya virus. Jim LeDuc, director of the GNL, also was interviewed by several news organizations. And Professor Labros Sidossis’ recent breakthrough research on brown fat was featured by CBS News and TIME Magazine.
Many of these interviews were the result of Reyes and his team’s efforts — writing news releases, “pitching” to the media and coaching the experts on conducting a media interview. This is what Reyes is doing on the day I meet with him. He explains that his workday actually begins before he reaches the office with him checking Google alerts to see where UTMB’s name is mentioned in the media.
“One of my responsibilities is to keep track of news that may affect UTMB positively or negatively,” he said. “It’s our goal to have UTMB seen in a positive light, speaking authoritatively, providing accurate information and helping reach as broad an audience as possible.”
If Reyes sees any news that could affect UTMB in a negative way, he alerts the appropriate executives. On this day the news is good. He emails UTMB executives a favorable editorial on the institution’s work on Ebola.
When he arrives to his office at 8:30 a.m. he begins checking his email and reviewing requests from the media to interview UTMB doctors, researchers or executives. He reaches out to a professor about a media plan to promote a new residency collaboration.
By 10:30 a.m. he heads into his weekly meeting with his media team, comprised of three senior communications specialists and a science writer, and UTMB’s international media relations firm. The team is constantly working to get UTMB’s positive work the attention it deserves. "In our weekly meeting we discuss what’s on the horizon that we can help publicize and consider options on how best to promote various events, research papers, clinic openings as well as what news is trending locally and worldwide.," said Reyes. He has decades of experience in journalism, working for every major newspaper in Texas as well as The New York Times and the Associated Press.
“I understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of news releases and pitches, as a journalist, so we try not to deluge journalists with an endless series of news releases or pitches. We’re busy; they’re busy. We try to make it worth everyone’s time and effort. ”
After his weekly team meeting and a break for lunch it’s 1 p.m. and Reyes spends the remainder of his day on a variety of media issues. He reviews media requests, works with his communications specialists on a breast cancer story for the Galveston Daily News, reviews a news release on a new campus certification and works with the Dallas Morning News on a developing story.
As he speaks about his work you can feel Reyes’ excitement about the good news he gets to spread about UTMB. It’s contagious.
“What I love about this job is that every day is different,” he said. “We have a great media relations team and PR agency. What we do is promote people who are truly helping people improve their lives. It’s all pitching good stories about good people doing great work in health care — which is a part of UTMB’s mission.”
“We are a forward-thinking institution, part of a health care ecosystem that is reaching the world with our education, clinical and research endeavors,” he said. “It’s very exciting when one of our professors is interviewed by a top-shelf news organization. But you always have to remember that those interviews and media hits occur because of the high-caliber of staff, professionals and professors we have at UTMB. The media responds because of UTMBs expertise. That makes our job easier.”
The work he does to shine a spotlight on the campus makes you feel proud to call UTMB your employer. Keep the good news coming, Reyes. And that’s a day in the life of a media relations director.