Communication winners and losers #8

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

Oxford University PR

Communications #fail of the month

In one sense singling out the new vice-chancellor of Oxford as the month’s communications loser is unfair. Louise Richardson gave perfectly reasonable answers to an agenda set by the Today interviewer (here from 1 hour 48 mins). 

No, academics were not as qualified as teachers to run schools, she logically argued. Yes, Oxford is worried that it cannot guarantee research cash and the position of foreign staff post-Brexit. Yes, the government’s Prevent strategy and those who want ‘safe spaces’ are both making demands that are inimical to a university’s duty to foster free expression.

Yet listening to her interview it’s hard not to conclude that it was a disaster. For a start the reason she was ostensibly invited onto the programme was to mark Oxford’s success at being named the world’s top university. But extraordinarily she failed to mention it once. A more experienced interviewee would have returned to that exceptional achievement even if the interviewer didn’t. 

Even worse was her defensive tone. Her arguments may have been sound but her clipped, almost resentful replies conveyed the impression that the country’s concerns aren’t something that should bother Oxford as much as the inconvenience suffered by Oxford should bother the country. The post-Brexit landscape may not be one a lot of us, and especially universities, care for. But I’m pretty sure elite disdain isn’t the best way of confronting the challenges ahead.

Communications #win of the month

Manchester University PR

The University of Manchester meanwhile managed to answer a question that has been bugging the nation for years: what colour hair did dinosaurs have? Ginger, it turns out, or some of them did at least. And no, that wasn’t the reason why they eventually became extinct.

But congratulations Manchester academics for putting a little colour into an otherwise very drab and sombre month for news

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.