Communication winners and losers #9

Every month GKP identifies who has scored in the education PR stakes and who has had a communications management malfunction.

Education PR Student Accommodation

Communications #fail of the month

October was not without its communications disasters. There was newly ennobled Shami Chakrabarti’s embarrassing attempt to defend her party’s opposition to grammar schools while having to admit she paid for her own child to be educated privately. 

Then there was Durand Academy’s quixotic decision to fight the organization that gives it most of its money – namely the government. And finally we learnt that the vice-chancellor of Bath felt so hard up on her £400,000 salary that she had to reclaim the £2 she spent on a packet of biscuits entertaining in her rent-free, five-bedroom university flat. Why do highly paid people ever think it’s a good idea to claim expenses for tiny amounts? Do they think the words “legitimate expense” or “greedy sod” will come to mind first? 

Taking the biscuit as communication loser of the month, however, has to be Property Week’s inaugural Student Accommodation Awards. These were set up to “champion the very best in student living”, according to Property Week. But the judges of its Student Experience category deemed that all the shortlisted candidates were championing were high rents for hard-up students. 

The cheapest rooms the judges pointed out were usually in excess of the national weekly average of £146. Many candidates charged £300 and one entrant demanded £400 a week from their student tenants. “Asking us to hand out an award when so many students are being pushed into poverty makes a mockery of what is a very real crisis,” the judges, who were students themselves, wrote in an open letter, which of course was widely published in the national media.

To be fair Property Week reacted with grace, suspended the category and announced a new award for “best affordable student housing” next year. But I bet they wished they had thought of that first time round.

Communications #win of the month

Education PR Twitter

The communication winner this month is a hash tag: #realworldacademic. It was set up in response to a Tweet from Tory MP Glyn Davies, who generously opined that, “he had never thought of academics as ‘experts’. No experience of the real world”. 

Understandably, the tweet prompted hordes of academics to remind the hapless MP that planes flew, computers calculated, diseases were cured and Tory MPs could share their inanities instantly with the ‘real’ world largely because of the work of academics. 

I have no idea who first set up the hash tag, but take a bow anonymous. Yes, it’s easy sport highlighting the foolishness of politicians. But can any of us honestly say we have too much of it? 


Gerard Kelly is the former editor of the Times Educational Supplement and Times Higher Education. He is the founding partner of Gerard Kelly & Partners (GKP), a communications consultancy. GKP offers education PR, marketing, consultancy and communications management to UK schools, universities and business.