Communication winners and losers #10

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

Education PR

Communications #fail of the month

Schools and school leaders are by their nature cautious beasts. They rarely stick their heads above the parapet to say or do anything provocative. November proved an exception. 

Sir Andrew Carter, a former government adviser and chief executive of the South Farnham Educational Trust, made a ‘brave’ conference argument that state schools should be allowed to charge parents £500 a year to fund additional facilities.  Deprived families, he insisted, should be exempt but that did nothing to lessen the scorn from colleagues. 

What would happen to parents who were unable or unwilling to pay for this “privatisation by the front door”, they asked? Would their children be ejected, or would they be taken to court? Perhaps wisely, answer came there none. 

Still, the contempt heaped on Sir Andrew’s head was as nothing compared to the derision directed at Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury. They too had made a ‘brave’ decision to invite old-boy and editor of the far-right Breitbart website Milo Yiannopoulos to speak to their sixth-formers. 

Most schools naturally love inviting back high-profile alumni. Mr Yiannopoulos however is hardly typical. His opinions on rape, women and Islam infuriate many. And his persistent online abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones earned him a permanent ban on Twitter. 

So the school’s invitation did not meet with universal acclaim. Nevertheless, it robustly defended its right to encourage free speech. “The Langton does not practise censorship,” it said. “ We trust that our students will be able to use their reason to assail bad arguments and applaud sound ones.”

These laudable sentiments, however, rang hollow when the Department for Education, citing ‘security concerns’, pressured the school to cancel the event. Langton’s capitulation, unsurprisingly, went down as badly with Mr Yiannopoulos’s supporters as his invitation had with his detractors. 

Which only goes to show that you can please some people some of the time but that it’s remarkably easy to upset everyone if you put your mind to it. 

Education Museum PR

Communications #win of the month

This month’s communication winner has to be Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which has been closed for a decade for renovations. It chose to advertise its imminent re-opening with an inspired flash-mob recreation of Rembrant’s painting The Night Watch in a shopping mall. 

Words really don’t do it justice. So if you haven’t seen it, watch it here

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.