How do you explain a scientific breakthrough in a soundbite, let alone the creation of the universe? That must be the daily problem faced by the PR flak at CERN, the Geneva-based European Nuclear Research Facility. Scientists investigating the creation of the universe hit the front pages this week with a new discovery; top prize to anyone who could put it into a Tweet.
Physicists at CERN said Wednesday they have discovered a new subatomic particle which bears remarkable similarity to the Higgs boson. Apparently this gives a potential clue as to why elementary particles have mass… Still with us?
A CERN spokesman told the media, “The results are preliminary, but the five-sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle.” Another scientist chimed in, “We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of five sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV.” In spite of these “clarifications” the media found a way to describe the discovery–the “God particle” became the shorthand. But does anyone understand what it means?
The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for CERN and the PR surrounding its discovery. While it rates top marks for global coverage and for getting key messages and data included, it’s only a “C” because we still have no idea what actually happened or what any of it means.
The PR Takeaway: When in doubt that anyone will understand your announcement, talk about benefits and not content. This is one example where the subject matter is truly too daunting for any PR flak with a clipboard and red pen. A couple of soundbites might have been useful to explain what this could mean in its practical application, if there is one. Failing that, what is the question that can now be answered but which could not be answered a week ago? That might be the tweet CERN was looking for.
Could CERN have come up with a better way to relate their discovery? Do you know what the discovery means? Give us your PR Verdict, below.