Communication winners and losers #13

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


Communications #fail of the month

Education PR

To label my pick as communications ‘loser’ of the month is a bit unfair. ‘Unfortunate’ would be nearer the mark. Ormiston Academy Trust launched a procurement process early in the New Year to supply communications services to its 30-odd schools, as it is required to do by law. It was a proper and, most would say, unremarkable event. Well it was until the press got hold of it.

“Schools charity rocked by sex and bomb hoax scandals blowing up to £900k on public relations agency”, fumed the Sun. “Academy bosses set aside £900,000 for PR experts”, sniffed The Times. “Academy school chain rocked by media scandals to invest up to £1 million on comms”, trilled PR Week. All of which must have come as a rather unpleasant surprise to the people handling the tender. Dealing with pesky enquiries from eager consultancy firms is one thing, but did they really deserve a public rollicking from outraged hacks?

On the one hand, OAT was only following correct procedure, which is pretty strict when it comes to school procurement and especially for services or goods over £164,000. The trust insisted that the eventual contract cost was likely to be much lower. On the other hand, was there really any requirement to specify an upper limit, or if there was why make it so high if OAT had no intention of paying anything like it? 

Ironically, a process to procure good communications advice triggered unwelcome publicity that allowed the media to resurrect a lot of old, bad news. At a time of squeezed school budgets, procurement for services simplistically caricatured as inessential is bound to cause controversy. But did OAT have to make it easy for the press to make that unflattering comparison?

Communications #win of the month

Hats off to the Varkey Foundation, which runs the Global Teacher Prize. Not content with enlisting the Pope and Prince William in last year’s jamboree, the foundation managed to get Prince Harry to send a video message enthusing about the profession to coincide with the announcement of this year’s finalists. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have been cheerleaders for the prize in the past.

What, I wonder, can top the billing next year? Michelle Obama introduced by Adele?

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.