European biomedical research institutions play an essential role as drivers of innovation in
healthcare. However, they currently face many challenges. One of these is to demonstrate
to funding bodies that their activities have a positive impact on society, economy, culture,
public policy, health, the environment and our quality of life. This is especially important when
explaining research using animals.
Opponents of the use of animals in research are well-funded, organised, and promote a
message to the public and policymakers that animal research is unethical and unnecessary.
Allowing these claims to go unchallenged will have a severe impact on biomedical research and
consequently on the prospect of new life-saving treatments for currently incurable diseases.
Public confidence in biomedical research depends on the scientific community embracing an
open approach and taking part in an ongoing conversation about why and how animals are used
in scientific, medical, and veterinary research, and the benefits of this. The role of EARA is to
assist institutions in this process, by working alongside organisations publicly to defend the use
of animals in research. We have drawn from these experiences to produce this handbook.
The handbook seeks to empower research institutions with the tools needed to develop a
proactive communications strategy on animal research, with the aim of promoting a balanced
and informed debate throughout society. It also offers practical communications advice on how
to handle those crisis situations that will inevitably occur.
We encourage your organisation and other research institutions across Europe to implement the
recommendations outlined here, become proactive in your communications on animal research
and engage with EARA for further support or advice.
With warm regards,
European Animal Research Association
Communications Handbook 3
This handbook has been produced by the European Animal Research
Association (EARA). The association provides its members with specialist
support through resources and public relations advice and also consultancy
for organisations that carry out animal research, their funders and suppliers.
EARA’s strategy focuses on:
l Facilitating the establishment of local animal research advocacy groups
and networks and strengthening those that currently exist.
l Organising proactive communications and campaigns that emphasise
the benefits of biomedical research for both humans and animals.
l Informing national and EU decision makers.
l Providing leadership, co-ordination, reputational and communications
help to service suppliers along the supply chain.
Who is this guide for?
This handbook provides communications, research and management professionals with the
necessary tools to develop and implement a communications strategy on animal research. It
aims to improve communications on the use of animals in biomedical research backed by sound
evidenced-based information. The handbook will also help you identify your main audiences and
develop key messages.
Included is a step-by-step guide to developing a communications strategy and advice on other
internal and external communication actions you can take to encourage a more balanced public
debate on the issue of animal research.
4 European Animal Research Association
About EARA 4
Who is this guide for? 4
The importance of communicating animal research 7
Changing tactics: Proactive communications 9
Handling crisis communications 11
Crisis scenarios 11
Dealing with a crisis 12
Handling media enquiries 15
Post-crisis reflection 16
Developing a long term communications strategy 19
Internal communications 19
Why is internal support important? 19
First steps 19
Spreading the word within your institution 20
External communications 22
Identifying external target audiences 22
Developing key messages 23
Organising animal facility visits 26
Developing effective webpages and social media 27
The key elements of an effective website 27
Using social media 32
Responding to comments 32
Handling crisis communications 34
Step by step: Developing a long-term communications strategy 34
Developing effective webpages and social media 35
Useful links 36
3Rs Centres in Europe 36
Organisations defending the importance of animal research 36
National competent authorities 37
Communications Handbook 5
6 European Animal Research Association
The importance of communicating animal research
A 2010 Eurobarometer poll on Science and Technology found that European citizens’ opinion
of the necessity of using animals in research is divided: only 44% of interviewees agreed that
scientists should be allowed to experiment on animals like dogs and monkeys, even when it leads
to improvements in human health, and 37% disagreed. When asked the same about animals
like mice, 66% of respondents were supportive and 18% were not (European Commission DG
Research, 2010, pp. 60-63).
Scientists should be allowed to
experiment on animals like dogs 44% 17% 37%
and monkeys if this can help sort
out human health problems
Scientists should be allowed to
do research on animals like mice 66% 14% 18%
if it produces new information
about human health problems
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
n Totally Agree / Tend to Agree n Neither Agree nor Disagree n Totally Disagree / Tend to Disagree Don’t Know
Figure 1: QC6.7. Scientists should be allowed to experiment on animals like dogs, monkeys or mice if this can help sort out
human health problems.
Divided public opinion is in large part caused by an imbalance in the publicly available
information about animal research: the general public currently has better access to information
from opponents of animal research than from the scientific community. The groups that oppose
animal research have gained ground in Europe, influencing decision makers and public opinion.
Leaving their claims unchallenged and censoring communications risks creating the impression
that the animal research sector has something to hide.
Fortunately, animal research extremism and unlawful activity has declined dramatically
in the past decade. Animal research opponents currently prefer to use a variety of lawful
campaigning methods ranging from PR, communications, and social media activities to peaceful
demonstrations and reputational challenges. Since a major proportion of research using animals
is conducted in universities and public research centres, these institutions are increasingly
becoming targets for campaigns such as these.
The reluctance of the scientific community in some countries to make the public case for animal
research has exacerbated an already difficult situation. Lack of proactive communications from
research institutions makes it difficult for members of the public, including patients benefiting
from medical breakthroughs, to locate information and arguments that support animal research.
Communications Handbook 7
To counter the threat of opponents’ campaigns, the scientific community is increasingly
committed to speaking up about animal research. Providing regular proactive communications
can nurture institutions’ media relations, give them the opportunity to promote their work, and
add to the public dialogue. Now is the time for institutions to start being more open with their
communications on animal research. There are many good stories to tell and the scientific
community needs to ensure that the public gets to hear them.
In recent years, we have witnessed a number of campaigns against high profile, publicly funded
research centres and universities across Europe. Aside from directly targeting institutions that
carry out animal research, opponents have also influenced the debate on animal research with
their activities in the political and scientific spheres.
Animal research in the spotlight
In Germany, the undercover infiltration of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics
in Tübingen in 2015 garnered significant media and political attention. On 16 April 2014,
a whole-page advertisement by the German Association for Opponents of Animal Research
(Tierversuchsgegner Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V.) appeared in several national
newspapers. These adverts accused a scientist, who works with macaques at the University
of Bremen, of applying ‘medieval methods of torture’ in his ‘barbaric experiments’ before
manipulating the final results. The University does basic and applied research that includes
work on treatments for epilepsy and improvements to controlling techniques for prostheses.
We estimate that the cost of this advertising campaign was significant, at around €200,000.
In 2013, activists from the organisation Close Green Hill occupied the animal facility at the
Department of Biotechnology and Translational Medicine of the University of Milan. They
released mice and rabbits and mixed up cage labels to confuse experimental protocols,
destroying years of research. The same university previously endured a display of posters
and leaflets containing personal information on research scientists. Leaflets referred to the
researchers as ‘murderers’.
The Italian Government transposed Directive 2010/63/EU into Italian law, imposing major
restrictions on animal research. The restrictions included a ban on: 1) breeding dogs, cats
and non-human primates for research on Italian territory; 2) use of animals in studies
on substance abuse and xenotransplantation; and 3) the use of animals for training and
education in universities. The European Commission started an infringement procedure
against Italy for improper transposition of Directive 2010/63/EU, and the Italian law now
has to be revised to ensure it abides by the Directive. However, the initial restrictions are
testament to the extent of the influence of anti-animal research groups in Italy.
8 European Animal Research Association
At the European level, discussions were influenced by the European Citizens’ Initiative
(ECI) ‘Stop Vivisection’. A petition backed by 1.2 million signatures was submitted to the
European Commission in March 2015 calling for the abolition of Directive 2010/63/EU on
the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, and for a ban on all animal research.
The organisers of the petition were invited to discuss the initiative in front of Members of the
European Parliament in May 2015.
In response, EARA collaborated with other stakeholders to co-ordinate a statement of
support for the Directive and oppose the ECI, with more than 280 signatory organisations
from across Europe. This statement served to show that the EU biomedical research
community supported Directive 2010/63/EU, and the balance that it strikes between
protecting animal welfare and supporting robust biomedical animal research.
The Commission’s response to the ECI was robust in recognising the importance of animal
research. It stated that ‘animal experimentation remains important for protecting human
and animal health, and for maintaining an intact environment. While working towards the
ultimate goal of full replacement of animals, Directive 2010/63/EU is an indispensable tool
at the EU level to protect those animals still required.’
The Commission’s communication called for all institutions, universities and companies
working with animals to provide more information and engage with the public to explain
animal research. In November 2017, an EU review of Directive 2010/63/EU was positive
about the ability of this legislation to bring significant benefits to animal welfare and best
practice in biomedical research, and was welcomed by the European scientific community,
including EARA. The review also praised EARA’s work on openness and transparency.
Changing tactics: Proactive communications
Instead of being forced to react to the threat of an anti-animal research campaign, a proactive
communications strategy allows an institution to develop well thought-out communications about
animal research at its own pace. Openness about animal research will give organisations an
advantage over those opposed to animal research, as well as showing the public that they are
willing to engage openly on the topic. In addition, this will also fulfill the European Commission’s
direct call for the scientific community to engage in a dialogue on animal research. 8
With a growing movement on openness across Europe, individual institutions are not alone
in publicly communicating about the role of animals in research. Initiatives such as the
Transparency Agreement on Animal Research in Spain and the Concordat on Openness on
Animal Research in the UK have shown that proactive communication helps remove the air of
secrecy that surrounds animal research, and fosters a balanced public dialogue. As part of its
Communications Handbook 9
mission, EARA promotes and assists in the creation and development of national organisations,
and facilitates co-ordination between networks from across Europe.
Openness and transparency
The following are a number of examples of collective initiatives to foster openness on
animal research, and to show a united front in the face of policy developments.
UK – The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK was launched in 2014, and
is co-ordinated by Understanding Animal Research. The 110+ signatories to the Concordat
have agreed that they will initiate projects and strategies to be more open about their use of
animals in research. Crucially, the signatories are asked to report on their progress in taking
these steps. The large number of Concordat signatories ensures that working on openness on
animal research in the UK is seen as the norm rather than an exception. The Concordat annual
report and accompanying Openness Awards ensure that signatories can be held accountable,
and can learn from each other’s good practice. 9
Spain – The Transparency Agreement on Animal Research in Spain is a collaborative
project by EARA and the Spanish Confederation of Scientific Societies (COSCE). With more
than 100 signatories, the Transparency Agreement contains four commitments for research
centres in Spain to provide more information about animal research at their institutions.
Portugal – The Transparency Agreement on Animal Research in Portugal, similar to those
in Spain and the UK, is an initiative proposed by EARA and supported by the Portuguese
Society of Sciences in Laboratory Animals (SPCAL). In Portugal, 16 institutions, including
research centres and universities, have agreed to be more open and transparent with the
general public, and to adopt a consistent approach to communicating the scientific, ethical
and moral justification for animal research.
Belgium – A statement in support of animal research and a transparent approach in
Belgium was launched to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals in 2016. The 24
signatories committed to work together for a transparent approach to communicating about
their animal research, and to foster an open dialogue about animal research between the
scientific community and the general public. For many signatory organisations, the statement
marked a first step towards openness on animal research.
10 European Animal Research Association
Handling crisis communications
‘Never has science been so much under the microscope of public interest. If scientists
want to sustain and improve the relatively high levels of public trust that they enjoy,
they must engage. The media still provides the most powerful and effective route for
communication with the public. Experience on many topics, from GM foods to embryo
research and animal experiments, demonstrates that when researchers work with the
media they can get complex and difficult messages across.’
Colin Blakemore, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience, University of Oxford; Professor of
Neuroscience and Philosophy, University of London
Committing your institution to a proactive communications strategy will mean preparing
materials and messages in advance, and ensuring that there is a good understanding of the
arguments in favour of animal research among senior management and those research staff
involved with animals on a day-to-day basis.
This handbook provides guidance about how your institution can prepare this groundwork (see
Step by step: Developing a long-term communications strategy). In many cases, however, often
the first time your systems will be truly tested is when your institution has to respond to media
enquires, possibly following allegations made by opponents of animal research.
When talking to journalists, activist organisations sometimes misrepresent the nature and
purpose of scientific research involving animals. Journalists sometimes take these stories
at face value, so it is important to be prepared to rebut in full any false claims made about
research at your institution.
Some scenarios that are likely to be of interest to journalists are:
n A protest outside your facilities, or in the nearest town, organised by an activist group.
These may start in response to details of specific studies, the planned opening of a new or
expanded research facility, or national or international ‘days of action’ by animal activists.
n Spillover protests from demonstrations against other targets, such as commercial
companies with which your institution may have commercial links.
n Animal activist groups publicising the fact that animal research is taking place at your
institution with statistics on the number and/or species used. This information may have
been acquired through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request or by scouring published
n Articles or letters published in newspapers, magazines, and websites, where private or
public institutions are named and criticised for their research using animals.
n Online petitions or high volume phone/mail campaigns that target individuals at an
institution, criticising animal research.
Communications Handbook 11
n Undercover infiltration of your facilities by one or more individuals – often by someone
working as a technician for many months previously – which might include photos and
video footage. These are less likely, but are something to be aware of.
The likely aim of these techniques is to make an emotive attack on your institution for
conducting ‘cruel’ or ‘unnecessary’ research, or citing evidence of mistreatment, either
maliciously or based on misunderstandings about the nature of the experiments. These attacks
may be unfair, but without a crisis plan there is a danger that your institution will fail to deal
effectively at an early stage with the allegations leading to damaging articles in the press before
a counter-argument has been made.
The basic rules of preparation for crisis communications are:
n React appropriately and recognise the level of risk to the reputation of the institution. Not
all attacks require the full mobilisation of your communications resources, and you should
avoid highlighting a story or event that has little credibility or media impact.
n Ensure that internal staff are ready to react at short notice, both through media training
and by maintaining out-of-hours contact details. It is better to keep your response team as
small as possible. Consider setting up a social media group, such as WhatsApp, to include
the most important internal contacts, for use during a crisis.
n Contact your networks and institutions that have experienced similar situations and ask for
advice (see also The role of EARA in a crisis, p16).
n Make sure you have the resources in place to react swiftly, including up-to-date media
contacts and the ability to monitor the media during the crisis, including social media. You
may also need to be prepared for further ‘allegations’ that the media may pick up on (See also
Step-by-step: Developing a long-term communications strategy for further information on this).
n It is recommended that you draft a basic preliminary statement now, and get it signed off, in
anticipation of a crisis scenario. This will contain information about your institution, the type
of research conducted, the standards you adhere to, and the benefits of animal research.
You can add details of the specific allegations as appropriate when the time comes.
n Devise a planned course of action for each of the scenarios listed above – it is well worth
holding a meeting with the relevant people to talk through the actions that might need
to be taken in an imagined crisis. While a real crisis will not exactly match what you have
practised, it can help identify weaknesses in your plan.
Dealing with a crisis
Protests and actions: While a couple of tweets probably do not suggest the beginning of a
campaign, a new Facebook page aimed at criticising/stopping an institution’s animal research
could well be. Similarly, a student group requesting information about your institution’s research
is better seen as an opportunity to engage with the student population, than as a campaign that
needs to be contained. If such a group emerges it can be a good opportunity to engage with them
– for instance through laboratory visits or a talk from a scientist or animal welfare technician.
If your institution is targeted, a brief should be sent as soon as possible, to senior management.
As they may not be familiar with the animal activist groups involved or their tactics, providing
12 European Animal Research Association
some of the background information contained in this document may be helpful. Animal rights
extremism is at an historical low, but many senior managers remember a time when extremism
was a more present risk.
Activists have a democratic right to protest. Such protests are almost always entirely peaceful
and within the law. If you hear of an upcoming protest, your institution’s security staff should be
able to advise on any security implications. The protest limitations should be provided in writing
to the protesters, and a message should be sent to staff asking them not to engage with any
protesters, reminding them that both police and activists may be filming.
As protesters are likely to have tipped off local journalists (or student journalists at a university),
a prepared statement can be helpful in case of any media interest. The statement should note
the importance of the research that the institution carries out, and how it fulfils its commitment
to ethical practice, animal welfare, and the 3Rs. If the protest is about a new facility make sure
to explain what diseases the research will be trying to find treatments for.
Case Study A: Max Delbrück Center, Berlin (MDC)
MDC was the target of a campaign Ärzte gegen Tierversuche (ÄgTV; ‘physicians against
animal experimentation’) when one of its scientists was awarded the so-called ‘Heart of
Stone’ for the ‘worst animal experiment 2017’ The research they targeted was a study
of naked mole rats which sought to protect the heart and brain of human patients after
infarction and stroke, by studying how these animals survive in oxygen-starved conditions.
The activists announced that they would present this prize together with supporters and
media representatives on the MDC campus. MDC decided to welcome these visitors to the
campus and show them that the Center was willing to enter into a fact-based discussion
and that it stood behind its scientists. An email was sent out to all staff by Martin Lohse,
CEO of MDC, explaining what was happening and asking for them to show solidarity with the
targeted colleague and to meet with the protesters. Staff were also asked to point out any
unusual activity to reception or security.
Mr Lohse said: ‘We accept manifestations against our views and our opinions, and we are
willing to enter into a dialogue. Our key messages are: We stand up for our researchers and
we and our institution are not willing to accept this generalising denunciation. We do not
have a heart of stone and we are willing to discuss with members of ÄgTV and to listen to
their criticism. But we demand a respectful discourse.’
A small group of activist protesters was then met by 120 MDC staff with leaflets stating ‘Let
us talk’, and asking the activists to discuss the issues in a proper dialogue.
A robust justification of the research and the benefits of animal research was put on the
MDC website, which also included the Center’s commitment to the 3Rs. Other links included
a Q&A about the research and why it was done, a write-up of the study, and fuller details on
why research is conducted at MDC.
Communications Handbook 13
Petitions and campaigns: The main frustration with an online petition is that often it can send
an email to a number of very busy staff members every time someone signs. Since the wording of
the emails is frequently identical, it can be easy to set up an email rule to manage these emails.
It is not necessary to reply to these emails, given the very low effort required to send them (many
petition websites will not even check an email address is real before sending on the email). It
may be appropriate to reply to emails that have been personalised, or come from recognised
opinion formers. It is important to alert (but not alarm) anyone who may be affected by these
mass communications so they can take steps to minimise the disruption they may cause.
The role of EARA in a crisis
Please alert EARA as soon as possible when a crisis strikes. We can offer practical advice
on crisis communications and give you support so that you have more time to deal with the
situation itself. EARA can support your institution in addressing claims by animal research
opponents, check to see if this action is part of a wider campaign, and put you in touch with
other institutions and relevant associations in your country, where necessary, for support.
EARA can set up its own media monitoring of the situation, provide useful information to you
and help with dissemination of your messages through our social media channels. If you
wish, EARA can also review any draft statements, or other responses, you intend to send to
the media – it may also help to have EARA copied into emails or involved in conference calls.
EARA has assisted insitutions in post-crisis reviews, when valuable lessons can be learned for the
future. We can also advise on cultural change and how to improve your institution’s reputation.
Critical articles: In theory, if your institution has a policy of openness this should mean that
there are no surprises in store from revelations about the number of animals used in research
or the types of research being conducted. Problems may arise if statistics have been revealed
that have not been made publicly available previously, as this may be seen as an example of the
institution’s secretiveness. Otherwise any arguments put forward in the article should be refuted
at the earliest opportunity.
Infiltrations: Animal activist groups have set aside large amounts of money for ‘investigations’,
and over the past few years there have been a number of high-profile infiltrations of labs.
Developing a process for communicating with the media – and for supporting staff in the event
of allegations being made – can significantly reduce the negative impacts of an infiltration.
The best defence against an infiltration is to be as open possible. Invite journalists in to see your
laboratories, preferably before any story goes to print. Contact the affected scientists to get first-
hand information on the aims, potential benefits, and welfare considerations of the research,
and relay this information to the journalist. You should also immediately contact EARA or your
national association for additional support.
You will also need to go through the specific allegations made by the activists to establish the
facts. This will form the basis of any response then put forward by your institution.
14 European Animal Research Association
Be aware that an infiltration can have a profound effect on staff wellbeing and trust. Try to keep
your staff updated with the latest information.
Handling media enquiries
Handling negative media attention can be one of the more demanding aspects of animal research
communication, but it can also be an opportunity to improve your relationship with journalists.
If a journalist contacts your institution, this is your chance to address any misunderstandings or
inaccuracies and also to put across your institution’s key messages on the importance of animal
research. In in the long-term you may also gain an important media contact.
Ask the journalist for evidence of the claims that have been made (often scientific papers) and
give your rebuttal – if you cannot immediately verify the accuracy of the claims ask if they can
delay the story for a few days before it goes to print. Your aim should be to put doubt in the
mind of the journalist about the ‘facts’ they have been given, so as to pick off any noticeable
inaccuracies straight away.
If your institution’s website publicises any of the data cited, you should point this out to the
journalist, thereby showing that this information is freely available and is not ‘news’. This may be
enough to persuade them to drop the story.
After the call you should immediately contact any researchers directly involved in the research
in question so that they can help ensure the accuracy of your institution’s response. You should
also keep any funders of the research fully informed.
Place the full facts and rebuttals on your website and social media as soon as possible, as this
ensures that anyone who searches for the story can directly access a balanced view. This also
saves time for the communications team time, as journalists or members of the public following
up on the story can be directed to the webpage for a complete picture. If activists try to sell the
same story to other outlets at a later date, the time stamp on the response also emphasises
that the misleading story is both old and inaccurate.
Once your institution’s response has been published, your media monitoring can begin to
check how it has been received and act as an early warning of what, if any, are the continiuing
concerns of your key audiences, including influential non-media voices. You should also monitor
the activists to see if any further actions are planned.
As soon as there is a prepared statement, it is advisable to contact the journalist by phone and
make clear that the allegations contain factual inaccuracies. If the article has been already
published, ask for amendments to the online article (have these already prepared), or a right of
reply beneath the article and/or a retraction in the hard copy of the newspaper. If this request is
refused, check if the publication is a member of a professional standards body and consult your
legal team as to whether legal action is appropriate.
The UK Science Media Centre has also produced a document with useful briefing information
Communications Handbook 15
Case Study B: University of Cambridge, UK
In June 2014, the University of Cambridge received an email from The Sunday Mirror newspaper
asking for a response to allegations of mistreatment of animals. The allegations, originally made
by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV – now Cruelty Free International),
related to studies using sheep models of Huntington’s and Batten’s disease. Although it
was immediately clear that some of the allegations merely described animal models of two
distressing diseases, some of the allegations were more serious and needed to be investigated.
The University’s Communications Office immediately contacted BUAV and requested a copy
of the report, but BUAV refused to provide it, claiming that it had ‘not yet been finalised’.
The Communications Office worked with a small team of colleagues to provide a statement
outlining why the research under question was necessary, while acknowledging that the
University would investigate the allegations.
With support from the Science Media Centre and Understanding Animal Research in the UK,
the team provided the journalist with factual information on research in sheep, and, crucially,
a patient with Huntington’s disease who could give their perspective.
The journalist was asked to delay publishing his story for a week and use that time to visit
the facilities for himself. He declined and the article was published that weekend. Whilst
negative, it carried a sidebar outlining the case for research from a scientist and a patient.
The same approach was taken for other journalists who made enquiries.
The University’s own investigations found that almost all the allegations were unsubstantiated
or described a sheep model of a disease. Two of the allegations related to matters that it was
already aware of – action had already been taken and the Home Office (the regulator) had
been informed, and was satisfied with the response. The report of the University’s investigation
was sent to The Sunday Mirror, the BUAV, and posted on the University’s website.
It is important to reflect and debrief on the actions and responses of your institution once the
crisis has passed. Ensure that media monitoring continues to assess public sentiment locally,
and whether the media refers to the information you have provided in any further coverage about
animal research. Build also on the relationships with the journalists who covered the story.
Internally, you should assess how your Expert Committee (see page 20) and animal researchers
feel about the communications and the process, how any information or messaging could be
improved, and what could be done better in future.
It is important that any researcher at the centre of any allegations feesl supported, not just at
the time of the crisis, but also in the long term.
One result of the Max Planck Society’s examination of its response to the 2015 infiltration, for
instance, (see page 8) was to produce a Declaration of Principle on Animal Research.
16 European Animal Research Association
Here are some further examples of positive developments following a potentially damaging crisis.
Case Study C: Imperial College, London, UK
In April 2013, The Sunday Times newspaper featured an infiltration by the British Union
for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), at Imperial College London. It claimed that ‘staff
breached welfare standards by mistreating laboratory animals’. The University immediately
ordered its own investigation (see Brown report below) to run concurrently with a Home
Office investigation, which began following the infiltration. BUAV had provided the Animals
in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) within the Home Office with a 71-page document and
accompanying video footage, containing over 180 ‘events which might have formed the basis
for an allegation of non-compliance’ against Imperial College, relating to the use of animals
under the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 (ASPA).
These allegations included ‘very large scale appalling animal suffering; unlawful regulations
by the Home Office; inadequate care of animals by establishment staff; [and] inadequate
enforcement by the Inspectorate’. The ASRU report, however, was clear in its conclusions,
finding most of the allegations unsubstantiated. The Brown Report undertook a broad
and detailed examination of all aspects of animal experimentation within Imperial College.
It aimed at improving best practice at the University. The University accepted all 33
recommendations made by the report.
The quick and far-reaching response of Imperial College to the undercover film – bringing in
an ‘outsider’ to investigate the accusations and accepting without that there was significant
scope for improvement in aspects of the operation, management and oversight of its animal
research – is an example of how an institution should respond to an investigation that
reveals the need for improvements in training.
In 2015 the Imperial College film, Animal Research at Imperial College, was released to
coincide with the publication of its first Animal Research Annual Report, both revealing the
high standards of research and animal welfare at Imperial College.
Communications Handbook 17
Case Study D: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Belgium
In November 2016, animal activists GAIA published a hidden camera video of the housing
and euthanising of research animals at VUB, accusing the University of causing animal
suffering and breaching the law. Two days later, in one reaction to the news, students and
staff were evacuated from the VUB campuses following bomb threats. The University also
temporarily suspended all its animal testing following a request by Bianca Debaets, Brussels
VUB immediately launched an internal investigation, to verify whether the documented
situations and actions were in line with the legislation and its ethical guidelines, and to see
how and where existing internal procedures on animal welfare could be tightened. As a
result the University then took measures in the fields of animal wellbeing, administration,
infrastructure and scientific research. New structural controls were put in place allowing
outsiders to audit and oversee the laboratories, and an academic lead was appointed
to co-ordinate the working of the testing facilities, in close collaboration with the Ethical
Commission Animal Testing and the Animal Welfare Body. The entire upgrade of the 40-year-
old facilities cost around 100,000 euro.
These measures meant that VUB and Ms Debaets reached agreement on the resumption
of animal testing. Currently, every two months VUB reports to the state secretary on the
proceedings at the animal testing unit, under the supervision of an inspector-veterinarian.
In the future, VUB wants to commit even more to animal wellbeing, and in the University’s
investment plan, 13.8m euro has been earmarked for a new animal testing unit. The new
animal testing facility will meet international criteria for animal wellbeing. Construction
should be finished by 2018-2019. ‘With those changes, we explicitly aim to push the
boundaries of housing and general care of lab animals,’ vice-rector for research policy, Karin
Vanderkerken, has stated.
18 European Animal Research Association
Developing a long term
How well your institution handles any crisis will be determined by the quality of the long-term
communications strategy that you have in place. The aim of any animal research communications
strategy is to generate long-term support for the fundamental role of animal models in scientific
research and the benefits of this research to society, an approach designed to minimise the
effectiveness of any shock tactics used by activists. It also means engaging with the media and
you are likely to need a higher level of internal support and reassurance to embark on this kind of
proactive communication activity, as working with the media will undoubtedly raise your profile.
Before you can begin working on any proactive communications strategy, a vital first step is
to obtain internal support for openness on animal research. However, achieving institutional
openness on animal research can be a slow process and is also about building trust between
the communicators and different staff groups.
Why is internal support important?
l It raises awareness of your animal research communications strategy and gains top-
level approval of communications messages.
l A carefully planned internal communications strategy can build the support and
confidence of scientific and management staff. It can also boost the morale of those
involved in research, as they begin to understand how being open is better than
remaining secretive, and helps to address the concerns of staff members who are not
directly involved in the animal research at your institution.
l A good internal communications strategy keeps staff (including students at universities)
and other stakeholders up to date with developments regarding animal research,
openness, and any activity from opponents of animal research.
It is essential to involve the entire organisation in your communications strategy, and not restrict
it to the department(s) dealing with external audiences. This will ensure a more consistent
approach is followed in the event of adverse publicity about your institution.
To gain commitment to your communication strategy, you will need to consult on proposals
with the most senior management team of your research institution. Agreement from those
most affected by the issue is also vital: bioscience and medical department heads, project and
personal licence holders, and the animal facility manager should all be consulted.
Start with the people you already have relationships with, such as prominent academics who
work with animals and the Establishment Licence Holder who can help you identify key staff
Communications Handbook 19
members to speak to and help make the case with their colleagues. Taking the time to inform
internal stakeholders and addres their concerns will help secure organisational commitment to
openness and ease the road ahead.
The role of EARA in developing your strategy
When developing your communications strategy EARA can provide practical help. We would
be happy to meet with your team for an initial discussion about your plans and identify areas
where we can be of assistance. This initial discussion can include a presentation on the
wider issues of animal research in Europe, reputation management, and examples of how
organisations similar to yours have handled a communications strategy and crisis response.
EARA can also introduce you to fellow EARA member organisations who can be of help and
offer advice on any events or lab visits that your are planning.
Setting up an Animal Research Expert Committee can be helpful as you design and co-ordinate
the communications strategy. Ideally, this committee will have a broad reach and not be limited
The committee might include one or more senior academics, representatives from the
communications department, the head of biomedical services, the central administration, the
Establishment Licence Holder, and possibly a representative of the animal research ethics
committee. The Expert Committee can meet at regular intervals (quarterly or biannually) to
discuss progress on animal research communications. Communication channels within the
Expert Committee should be actively maintained to update its members on developments,
actions, and issues of interest including media coverage and events. Leading members of the
Expert Committee should be fully aware of the crisis response plan and there should be at least
two spokespeople identified – media training for the spokespeople would be extremely valuable.
Spreading the word within your institution
Beyond your organisation’s internal decision makers, a large proportion of the people working
or studying at your institution will not be directly involved with any animal research. Making
them aware of the animal research and welfare standards, the legislation that regulates animal
procedures, and projects in which animal research plays a part will, help staff, students, and
their families understand the context and need for animal research at your institution.
Make sure that members of staff, who feel nervous about proactive communication, have an
opportunity to voice their concerns, including those who are less familiar with the nature and
reasons for animal research. Attempts to engage on the issue of animal research can often
generate resistance in different sections of an institution. Organising workshops, lectures and
roundtables for staff, researchers, and students will allow you to address any concerns before
you embark on a proactive communications strategy.
20 European Animal Research Association
Using existing channels of communication is a good way to start discussing animal research at
your institution. Seek to place articles in the institution’s newsletter, the annual report, or in the
alumni blog. It is not necessary to focus solely on animal experimentation – simply mentioning
the use of animals as a normal part of your wider research efforts is sufficient.
Scientists are proud of their work and hope that it will improve our society and wellbeing.
Encourage them to give talks for alumni groups, at established lecture series, schools and
local community forums, to showcase how and why they use animals in their research and
what the benefits will be. Make them aware of public engagement opportunities with the
civic, professional, or public bodies to which they already belong, such as school governors
or residents’ associations, and public engagement opportunities at suitable venues such as
patient forums or other community groups. In addition, you could encourage research staff to
spend a day or more with your communications team to understand the work that they do, and
likewise for the communications staff to become familiar with the work of lab staff.
Most life sciences students will understand the value of animal research and may be willing to
participate in student debates and roundtables to explain why they stand on the side of animal
Follow these steps to develop an efficient internal communications strategy:
l Select an institutional contact person for animal research issues. This person should
preferably be a member of your Animal Research Expert Committee.
l Frontline staff at your institution cannot be expected to have all the answers at their
fingertips, but they should know where to go for information and what the policies are. It is
good practice to have prepared information ready in order to respond to common enquiries.
l Inform all staff – not just those who work in biological sciences, but employees across the
entire organisation – about the animal research carried out at your institution.
l Make sure that everyone involved in developing or implementing the communications
strategy has visited an animal lab and understands the rationale for animal research. Staff
lab vists can also be good practice in preparation for visits by the media and others.
l Give receptionists, secretaries and other support staff in biomedical services training
and information so they know how to deal with enquiries on animal research. Enquiries
to the central secretariat should be forwarded to the biomedical services administrative
department, or your institution’s approved communications contact.
l Remind all departments that use animals for research to update regularly any news
(a new project licence, any unexpected event, any media mention) or developments
to the Animal Research Expert Committee. By doing so, you can make any necessary
preparations for new investments or research programmes, new buildings, changes in
experimental procedures or species used, new project licence applications, and high
profile appointments or announcements.
l Identify an institutional point of contact, preferably a security, or facilities managment
representative, to liaise with your local police force should a problem arise. Ensure that this
person keeps the police up to date with any activity from opponents to animal research, no
Communications Handbook 21
matter how insignificant it might seem. A deputy should be appointed and should be kept
aware of latest issues for when the designated police liaison officer is out of office.
l Set some targets. Decide what progress on communications you would like your institution
to have made in six months, and in one year.
Identifying external target audiences
Without a clear understanding of the different audiences that you want to influence and inform,
your institution will not be able to design an effective strategy to target them. Different target
groups engage through different communications channels, and your institution will inevitably
require a range of methods and key messages.
Generally speaking these target audiences can be categorised as:
l Local community
l Media/opinion formers
l Professional bodies
l Legislators and regulators
Local community: Local stakeholders are potentially a receptive audience who will be
interested to learn about the research at your institution and the role of animal studies within
that research. If your institution is a major employer in the area, those in the local community
could know employees personally and may have concerns, but are likely to give a fair hearing
to the institution on animal research issues. Local people could also be an important allies if
your institution is targeted by protesters and may be willing to make a public case for animal
The goal of local community engagement is not aggressive propaganda, but rather regular, low-
key reminders of the institution’s activities, especially when they benefit the community (for
instance, a bioscience spin-off that will boost employment and bring revenue to a community).
This ‘drip feed’ of information serves to keep your institution on the community’s radar, and
allows you to influence at least some of the information the community receives about your
institution. Consider outreach work such as leaflets, open days, and public presentations.
Engaging with schools is especially important since teachers across Europe are inundated with
materials from groups opposed to animal research. Even when they want to address the issue
they might not have adequate information that supports their views on the use of animals in
medical and scientific research. Persuade your institution’s staff to talk at local schools. Animal
technicians often give a very positive impression to school children because they can talk about
how they care for the animals themselves. Use existing forums like institutional open days,
science fairs, or road shows to communicate with local school students.
22 European Animal Research Association
Opinion formers: These are defined as people who can shape the perception of animal
research and your institution’s reputation, such as journalists and local influencers. Making
opinion formers aware of the important role of animals in biomedical research will help make
the case for animal research in both the public and political spheres.
Opinion formers often need to gain a rapid understanding of the main facts, figures and issues
about animal research, so offer to meet them for a briefing. For instance, highlight the relevance
of animal research at your institution, and share guidelines regulating animal research and
welfare in Europe, your country and your institution.
Professional bodies: There is strength in numbers, so professional associations, research
funders, industry partners and other research institutes are some of the professional bodies
who can offer support and guidance. It is useful make them aware of the research that you
conduct and to build contacts within them. If your institution then comes under pressure, the
way that you handle any crisis can help build your institution’s reputation and the perception of
its competence. It is also useful to discuss with colleagues in other institutions any openness
methods they have found successful or unsuccessful.
Research funders may want to know about your public engagement activities to ensure that
the studies they fund are adequately communicated and supported by well thought-out policies
and practices. They are also likely to want to liaise with you on any publicity you gain for the
results of your research; find out if they have policies on animal research so as to align your
communications plans with them.
Legislators and regulators: Politicians at local, regional and national levels will also be
important audiences to influence and inform. Local politicians could be particularly useful
supporters if the institution comes under criticism, as it is possible the media might look to
them for comment. Provide their offices with the sort of general information provided to the
public and offer invitiations to tour your research facilities and meet with senior staff. If possible,
relationships should be built with regulators as well.
Opponents: Engaging with local (or student groups at a university) opposed to animal research
might be constructive even if minds are not changed on either side. When first engaging with these
organisations, try to find out whether they are open-minded and prepared to enter constructive
discussion. If they ask you to provide a speaker for a debate about animal experimentation, we
suggest you do so. This will avoid being perceived as trying to hide your use of animals, which can
be met with disdain even by supportive groups. You should also ask if a speaker from a national
pro-research organisation can attend, as they are likely to have a good overview of the debate.
Developing your key messages
After identifying your communications goals and target audiences, you can begin to develop your
key messages. It is important to keep the messages simple and to the point. The tone of this
messaging should be that your institution is willing to engage in open discussion on the issue of
l It is helpful to prepare a Frequently Asked Questions document and factsheets addressing
major concerns, so that you can supply opinion formers with a handy overview in case of
Communications Handbook 23
l Information packs tailored to different audiences can be distributed to, for example,
prospective students or employees, decision makers, journalists, and funders.
The messages should be at the forefront of any document or statement that is produced by
your institution. The themes of your messaging are likely to include reference to the medical
breakthroughs that have involved animal research, the high standards of animal welfare, and
the strict regulation at both national and EU levels. The principles of replacement, refinement,
and reduction (‘the 3Rs’) guide research in the EU. This means that every effort is made to
improve animal welfare, minimise the use of animals, and adopt alternative methods.
Emphasise the ethical dimension of animal research – that it is done when there are no
alternatives and with animal welfare as a priority. You might include quotes from your
institution’s vets or animal technicians about how they maintain a culture of care and how they
promote good animal welfare standards.
The key messages need specific supporting facts and figures, examples, anecdotes, pictures,
film, and so on. Photographs of good-quality housing for the animals look particularly impressive
and important, because the media tend to run with pictures from antivivisection groups, even in
balanced stories, due to a lack of pictures/footage of contemporary facilities. Be aware that
key facts and statistics can take some time to collect, verify, and sign off, and will always need
to be dated.
l It is useful to mention the species of animal used in research when publicising biomedical
breakthroughs and advances in press releases and information packs.
l Ensure that all the documents you produce include a short version of your institution’s
animal research statement with a link back to the full document.
l Banners and leaflets at public engagement events and open days are a good way of
reaching out to the local community. The informal atmosphere and direct contact
between the audience and researchers provide an opportunity to discuss animal research
within its larger scientific and societal context.
l Infographics are a visually interesting tool to present a quick overview of complex
information. Depending on the topic, this type of graphic is particularly suitable for use in
schools, in briefings for politicians, and for use on social media.
l When justifying the use of animals in your research, it is better to put forward the benefits of
animal research rather than attempt to counter the arguments of opponents.
l Explain some of your institution’s research and why it is carried out. Put this into context
by also mentioning some of your non-animal work, or the work to replace or reduce the
use of animals at the institution. Openness means acknowledging that research means
harm to animals as well as benefits to humans (and animals). Showing the steps taken to
reduce these harms will show the care taken by your staff and help reinforce the message
that, by law, animals are only used where there are no other options. Hearing directly
from researchers about how and why they use animals in their research can give the
16 For example Night of Science in Germany (www.nightofscience.de/dynasite.cfm?dsmid=23251), Biotech Day in Belgium
(www.biotechdag.be) or Brain Awareness Week (www.fens.org/Outreach/FENS-Brain-Awareness-Week/)
24 European Animal Research Association
public insights into why the animal research is necessary. It is important to be as open as
possible, and the institution’s position statement can be used as the basis for a response.
Consider publishing an annual report or executive summary about the animal research at your
institution. An annual review could include the yearly figures provided to regulatory authorities,
a number of case studies of the research at your institution that involves animals, and 3Rs
initiatives or other relevant information that might avoid time-consuming Freedom of Information
requests (see page 31). The best statistical information will include a breakdown of the number
of animals by species and research purpose.
Max Planck Society
University of Groningen
Case Study E: Max Delbrück Center, Berlin (MDC)
In 2012, the anti-animal research organisation PETA targeted the Max Delbrück Center
for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), with a campaign that included
several newspaper articles in a German daily newspaper. The aim of the campaign was
to stop the building of a new lab to house 12,000 mice (4,000 mice cage equivalents)
and lab space. Within three months, more than 20,000 people signed a petition and thus
automatically sent an e-mail to the Governing Mayor of Berlin. The media picked up the story,
people organised protests and rallies, and politicians asked the MDC for clarifications.
The MDC had always mentioned animal research in press releases, if the results were
obtained in studies with mice, rats or other animals. After the campaign, however, the Center
launched a website explaining why researchers conduct research with animals and outlining
how the animals are taken care of, how many animals are used, and so on. In addition, the
institution’s communications on the issue of animal research became more proactive. For
example, the MDC issued press releases the week before the International Lab Animal Day
and made contact with media to promote these stories more resolutely.
The Center measured and colour-coded newspaper articles (red: anti-MDC and animal
research, grey: neutral, green: pro-animal research and the MDC). From February to May,
most of the articles were red, but in a few months they turned to grey and then green. The
Center informed all staff via emails, organised several gatherings and discussions within
the MDC, and developed courses for scientists and staff on how to communicate about
animal research. After 18 months of heavy opposition, the situation calmed down, and
MDC scientists and the head of the communications department are sought as media
spokespersons on animal research.
Communications Handbook 25
Organising animal facility visits
Inviting small groups (politicians, journalists, school pupils, or staff who do not work directly with
animals) into an animal research facility allows you to engage directly with target groups, and is
the most direct way of putting openness into practice. A laboratory tour allows visitors to meet
animal technicians and directly experience the welfare standards at your institution. A laboratory
tour does not guarantee that the visitors leave your facility being entirely supportive of animal
research, but it does allow for a more informed debate in future.
l Be sure to notify anyone who will be present in the facilities at the time of the tour. Some
staff might wish to avoid being in an animal house if certain visitors are being shown
l Make sure that staff have given their consent if photographs are to be taken.
l Ensure that there are no notices or signs that might provoke questions that the institution
does not want to discuss.
l If you want to show sterile environments, consider installing cameras in the room that link
to monitors outside.
l Consider inviting the media to visit follwoing any major redevelopment or expansion of your
l To reach a larger audience it is possible to create a virtual lab tour via a weblink such as
CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research)
Several UK institutions have virtual lab tours are featured on the UAR website
26 European Animal Research Association
Developing effective webpages
and social media
The key elements of an effective website
Your institution’s website is likely to be the first point of contact with many of your key audiences
and it is essential that it contains an easily accessible and prominent section on animal
research. The best animal research webpages include the following sections:
l A position statement
l Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
l Statistics on animal research at your institution
l Case studies
l Images and video
Position statement: Providing a statement on your website shows that you are open about
animal research. It lets your supporteres and the public know why you support such research and
is an opportunity to explain the high standards of animal welfare that this research must meet.
Aim to make your policy statement the first piece of information available to anyone interested
in looking for information about animal research at your institution. A statement can pre-empt
questions from the public or media; provide the basis for replying to news stories; reassure its
audiences about the importance of animal research; and show researchers that the institution
is proud of the important work it does.
More detailed information about housing, environment and welfare can help to demonstrate
your institution’s commitment to the refinement of animal research and the minimising of animal
suffering. You should be prepared to update any facts or statistics used in the statement each
year. Here are some links to good policy statements:
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Portugal)
UK Bioindustry Association
University of Cardiff (UK)
Communications Handbook 27
University of Nottingham (UK)
University of Plymouth (UK)
The Speaking on Research (SR) website provides links to the policy statements or public
webpages on animal research for more than 350 institutions and also grades them.
You can inform SR of the details of your own statements if they are not already listed:
Some suggested elements of a position statement
Explain why animal research is necessary and its benefits
l Animal research has been key to medical progress.
l Your research into debilitating diseases still involves animal studies.
l In certain aspects of fundamental and applied research, animal studies play a vital role.
l Refer to position papers on particular applications of animal research in neuroscience
or cancer studies.
Discuss the laws and regulations that govern animal research
l Animal research in the European Union (EU) is regulated under Directive 2010/63/EU
on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes.
l The use of animals in research is only allowed when the potential benefits outweigh the
l Animals can only be used for a limited number of research purposes.
l Staff, laboratories and animal housing have to adhere to strict criteria.
l Animal testing for cosmetics is no longer permitted in the EU. 18
Explain the 3Rs principles
l High animal welfare supports good science.
l Many questions in biomedical research can now be answered using non-animal methods.
l The 3Rs are guiding principles in animal research.
l How are the 3Rs applied in practice?
l The EU Directive enshrines the 3Rs into EU law, and has been implemented into
28 European Animal Research Association
FAQs: These can help directly address some of the more common questions you are asked both
by journalists and the public. These answers can also be helpful for dealing with questions that
come through social media.
It is better not to use negative phrasing (for example ‘we don’t conduct research on primates’).
This could be seen as an implied criticism of those institutions that conduct certain types of
research and could cause problems if your areas of research change in the future. Here are
some links to FAQ webpages:
KU Leuven (Belgium)
Max Planck Society (Germany)
University of Exeter (UK)
University of Nottingham (UK)
University of Oxford (UK)
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests
Most European countries have some form of Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. This
allows members of the general public to request information held by their government; in
many cases, this type of legislation also applies to publicly-funded bodies, including research
Groups opposed to animal research sometimes make use of FOI legislation to request data
on animal use at public research institutions. The aim of these FOI requests is to force an
institution to release information on topics such as the number of animals used, the type or
severity of animal experiments, or inspection results. Opponents of animal research often
frame the results of these FOI requests as ‘shocking exposés’.
A good way to prevent these time-consuming FOI requests is therefore to ensure that the
information is already available to the public. For example, you could consider publishing
your institution’s animal usage statistics on your website. If your institution has an FOI officer,
make sure you consult them before acting on the request.
When faced with an FOI request, it is important to provide the requested information as
efficiently and promptly as possible. Any perceived reluctance to hand over the data will only
reinforce the idea that information on animal research is difficult to obtain.
19 See for example www.wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/research-involving-animals-faqs-wellcome.pdf
Communications Handbook 29
Statistics: Publishing annual animal research statistics on your website gives an accurate
overview of the species and numbers of animals used at your institution. It shows that you have a
clear intention to be open and transparent, and can pre-empt opponents of animal research from
targeting your institution with time-consuming Freedom of Information requests. Good statistical
information will include a breakdown of the number of animals by species and research purpose.
German Primate Center
Imperial College, London (UK)
Max Planck Society (Germany)
University of Cardiff (UK)
Case studies: In a case study, you can make the narrative about animal research at your
institution more tangible, and place it in context. The case study should contain the sort of
content that you would be pleased to see featured in a newspaper article. It can explain how
and why animals were used in a piece of research, and connect the research back to the larger
scientific, clinical or societal impact.
l Consider case studies on animal research used to study diseases and also research to
advance fundamental knowledge, as these are two separate aspects to animal testing.
l If you are looking at fundamental research, it may still be useful to mention any future
disease research studies that could benefit.
l Include the impact of the any disease being studied, such as the symptoms, and numbers
of people affected.
l Include why animals were necessary to investigate the scientific questions being
addressed, and why the specific species involved was chosen.
l Address any specific steps taken by the researchers to reduce animal use or alleviate
l Include information about the ethical review the research underwent before it could go
ahead, and how the research is regulated.
l For the most impact, see if you can work with charities or other patient groups to provide
a patient perspective, with a narrative about how the treatments developed, thanks to
animal research, have helped them personally.
30 European Animal Research Association
Babraham Insitute (UK)
British Heart Foundation (UK)
Images and video: These are powerful in providing an accurate representation of the research
environment at your institution. A handful of pictures or a short video, including an interview with
researchers, can do more to dispel many common misconceptions about the conditions and
treatment of animals in laboratories than a paragraph of text. Images might be of enclosures,
animals, or procedures.
Remember that most members of the public are unfamiliar with lab equipment, so a short
explanation can be useful: for instance, that individually ventilated cages can protect animals from
external pathogens. It is useful to allow the easy re-use of your image, for example by creating an
image library, as it increases the chances they will be used instead of another image found by a
journalist on the internet (many of which are not representative of modern animal research).
King’s College, London (UK)
MRC Harwell Institute (UK)
University of Madrid (Spain)
University of Turin (Italy)
University of Cambridge (UK)
Fighting cancer: Animal research www.youtube.com/watch?v=CK78IXTRH0s
University of Rennes (France)
University of Salamanca (Spain)
Communications Handbook 31
Defining search terms
Check to see what links appear first when you search on your insittution’s website for the
term ‘animal research’. Similarly, check if searching in Google and other search engines finds
your institution’s name near the top – put in ‘Institution X animal research’.
Remember that not everyone will search for the same phrases when using the search bar
on your website. While animal research is the most accurate phrase for the array of studies
on animals, many people will search for animal testing, animal experiments, or vivisection –
try browsing in an incognito window as well. If negative comments figure high in the
rankings, ask your web editors for help, or consider increasing the use of these words
across your webpages.
Using social media
Social media is an important way to engage directly with those who are interested in your
institution and the research that it carries out.
The public may ask questions about your institution’s research through your social media
platforms. The most likely platforms for this interaction are currently Facebook and Twitter.
Consider scheduling recurring posts, such as those about the benefits of animal research to
society, and include links your institution’s animal research webpages.
Responding to comments
Questions and comments on social media can come in many forms. It is useful to outline a
strategy to help you decide when and how to answer questions, and when wider action is
required to deal with the questions.
Keep your responses short and polite. Answer questions about the animal research at your
institution in a brief and polite manner. Your key messages will help answer social media
questions and comments quickly and consistently. Space is limited on social media so include
helpful links to your own web resources (or via hashtags # on Twitter) or those of other bodies
where relevant, to refer to more detailed information. Providing an email address for people to
contact you directly can be effective in moving the discussion offline.
Avoid getting stuck into lengthy conversations. When answering people’s questions, you are
not trying to convince them of the value of animal research. The aim of your institution’s social
media engagement is to set out your institution’s official position and the reasons for supporting
animal research, so the user can make up their own mind.
32 European Animal Research Association
In general you can divide your response to a comment into four categories:
l Respond, but hide the conversation from other users
l Delete/ban the comment
l Delete/ban and report the comment to your security staff and the police
In the case of abusive comments, it is often unhelpful to engage with the content of the
comment itself. You can choose to reply with a standard sentence referring to your web
statement, or to ignore this type of reaction. However, in the interests of an open and balanced
debate, we would advise not to delete negative comments unless they clearly break community
guidelines or if they are a part of a large-scale campaign dominating your page – you are also
likely to find that supportive users will defend your institution.
Deleting or blocking comments can be seen as censorship, but is sometimes necessary when
they are abusive or are personal attacks on those involved in animal research at your institution.
If there are clear threats or incitement in a comment, you should immediately report it to your
institution’s security staff and the police.
While it is valuable to engage with everyone who has questions about your research, it is also
time-consuming. It is fine to stop a conversation if it ceases to be constructive. Giving people
information about the institution’s reasons for supporting such research allows them to make
their own mind up about how they feel about it.
Blogs are a positive way of sharing your institution’s research through a personal lens. Posts
do not necessarily need to put the animal research front and centre (unless the research being
discussed is wholly in animals), but it is useful to mention the role of animal models where
relevant to other studies (such as clinical research that followed animal studies).
Large-scale negative social media campaigns are often co-ordinated by groups opposed to
animal research that put out messages for their sympathisers to copy and paste. In the case of
email campaigns, you can choose to create an automatic reply to such messages.
Communications Handbook 33
Handling crisis communications
A good crisis plan is more likely to succeed if materials and messages have been prepared in
advance, and it is worth testing out your plan with a mock scenario.
l React appropriately and recognise the level of risk to the reputation of the institution of any
particular piece of adverse publicity.
l Be prepared and ensure that the relevant internal staff are aware of how to react at short
l Have a basic preliminary statement ready and signed off. This will contain information
about your institution, the type of research conducted, the standards you adhere to, and
the benefits of animal research.
l Conduct a debrief on the actions and responses of your institution once a crisis has
passed. Build also on the relationships with the journalists who covered the story.
Step by step: Developing a long-term communications strategy
The aim of any animal research communications strategy is to generate long-term support, both
from external audiences and those within your institution, for the fundamental role of animal
models in scientific research.
l Before you can begin working on any proactive communications strategy, a vital first step is
to obtain internal support for openness on animal research.
l Set some targets. Decide what progress on communications you would like your institution
to have made in six months, and in one year.
l It is essential to involve the entire organisation in your communications strategy, and not
restrict it to the department(s) dealing with external audiences. Mention the use of animals
in research as a normal part of your information about research at your institution
l Setting up an Animal Research Expert Committee can be helpful as you design and co-
ordinate the communications strategy. Ideally, this committee will have a broad reach and
not be limited to researchers.
l Without a clear understanding of the different external audiences that you want to
influence and inform, your institution will not be able to design an effective strategy and
the key messages with which to target them.
l Key messages will always need specific supporting facts and figures, examples, anecdotes,
pictures, film, and so on.
34 European Animal Research Association
Developing effective webpages and social media
l The best animal research webpages will include: a position statement; frequently asked
questions; statistics on animal research at your institution; case studies; images and video.
l The aim of your institution’s social media engagement is to set out your institution’s official
position, rather than to win an argument about the pros and cons of animal research.
l Consider scheduling recurring posts, such as those about the benefits of animal research
to society, and include links your institution’s animal research webpages.
Communications Handbook 35
3Rs Centres in Europe
Norwegian Consensus Platform for Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animal experiments:
Danish 3R-Center. www.3rcenter.dk/Sider/About-us.aspx
Finnish centre for alternative methods. www.research.uta.fi/ficam
The 3R Foundation. www.forschung3r.ch/en/information/index.html
German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.
Nationaal Comité advies dierproevenbeleid (NCad). www.ncadierproevenbeleid.nl/
Organisations defending the importance of animal research
Infopunt – www.infopuntproefdieronderzoek.be/
GIRCOR – www.recherche-animale.org/
Pro-Test Germany – www.pro-test-deutschland.de/en/
TVV – www.tierversuche-verstehen.de
Pro-Test Italia – www.pro-test.it/
Research4life – www.research4life.org/
SID – www.stichtinginformatiedierproeven.nl/
SECAL – https://secal.es/
Basel Declaration Society – www.basel-declaration.org/
SGV – www.naturalsciences.ch/topics/animal_experimentation
UAR – Understanding Animal Research – www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/
36 European Animal Research Association
Speaking of Research – www.speakingofresearch.com/
AMP – Americans for Medical Progress – www.amprogress.org/
NABR – National Association for Biomedical Research – www.nabr.org/
Case study F: Pro-Test Deutschland
In May 2015, a group of students and scientists in Germany decided to follow the example
of their colleagues in the UK and Italy and founded Pro-Test Deutschland. The group is a
non-profit organisation with the aim of adding its voice so that the public and scientists can
engage in an informed and fair debate.
To date, Pro-Test Deutschland mostly focuses its activities on maintaining an informative
and well-balanced website containing FAQs and fact-checking sections, as well as on
community outreach, policy engagement, and media communication. Since journalists in
Germany wishing to report on animal research had previously lacked reliable information in
German, Pro-Test Deutschland quickly received a lot of attention, with invitations to speak
at public forums and national newspapers printing interviews and citing information from
its homepage. Pro-Test Deutschland, initially based in Tübingen, has now grown to include
students and scientists in other German towns and cities such as Freiburg, Munich, Bonn,
Göttingen, Leipzig and Berlin.
National competent authorities
These are the government departments in each EU country that are responsible for regulating
Communications Handbook 37
back of page 37
The EARA Communications Handbook was compiled by
Corina Hadjiodysseos, Kirk Leech, Emma Martinez Sanchez,
Bob Tolliday and Sarah Wells.
European Animal Research Association
Abbey House, 74-76 St John Street, London EC1M 4DZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 3675 1245
www.eara.eu [email protected] @The_EARA
Published Autumn 2018 Price €375
38 European Animal Research Association