CIMMYT staff at all levels increasingly need to describe and explain center objectives, activities, and accomplishments to a broad public that includes students, scientific colleagues, decision makers, donors, and the media, among others. It may seem simple, but such communication requires considerable knowledge of the center and its global and local contexts, as well as sensitivity about the audience and skill in crafting and presenting messages.
To help personnel frequently called upon to interact with the media in Mexico, CIMMYT held a four-hour media training workshop at El Batán on 09 July 2009. Organized by Karen García, head of communications of AgroBIO-México, and Mike Listman, the event was conducted in Spanish by communications expert Alejandro Romero of the Mexican public relations firm Llorente & Cuenca. After a detailed, theoretical presentation and discussion, participants Victor Chávez and Bibiana Espinosa, research assistants who frequently show visitors the germplasm bank, as well as Bram Govaerts and Kevin Pixley, took part in individual, simulated television interviews that were filmed and subsequently critiqued by Romero and the group. All received advice and specific techniques on how to stay on message, to steer interviews in the desired direction, and to deal with leading questions and sensitive issues, like genetically modified maize in Mexico.
The workshop is just a beginning, and highlighted the need to formulate concise, effective messages on key topics and, especially, for more practice in handling interviews. “You always have to remember that you’re representing an organization, and not your personal views,” Romero told the group. Other CIMMYT participants on this occasion were Nele Verhulst, Andrea Chocobar Guerra, Susanne Dreisigacker, Natalia Palacios, George Mahuku, Claudia Bedoya, Laura Yates, and Allison Gillies. Special thanks to AgroBIO-México, which put on the event free-of-charge.