Over recent years Warwick University has established itself as one
of Britain’s top five academic institutions. It is often referred to as
one of the country’s most innovative universities because of its
commercial nous and ability to generate around 60 per cent of its own
revenue from activities such as hosting conferences.
By the end of 1996 the Warwick University press office had already been
generating substantial press coverage about Warwick’s elevated status,
when the university was approached by Radio 4 senior producer Brian
King, a specialist in fly-on-the-wall documentaries. After some
consideration, Warwick decided to let the microphones onto campus.
To raise awareness of Warwick University among parents and potential
The university was well aware of the damage that the fly-on-the-wall
documentary can potentially inflict on an organisation’s reputation. A
case in point was last year’s TV programme The House, a
behind-the-scenes look at the Royal Opera House.
So it talked to previous ’victims’ of Brian King’s documentaries who
came back full of praise.
’We are a risk-taking university and extend this to PR,’ says press
officer Peter Dunn, although he admits he would have been more reticent
had there been a TV crew.
The PR team negotiated with King in advance. Warwick wanted some areas
of its operation to be covered, such as the business school and
conference centre, which King refused on the grounds that it would not
make good radio.
Other areas, which the university believed to be particularly sensitive,
King agreed to respect, although he did stick to his guns on certain
areas such as covering the end-of-term rave party.
King trusted the university to undertake the recordings itself, which
Dunn said that it took for granted after a while.
Warwick enjoyed the initial exposure from Radio 4’s programme, which had
an audience estimated to be around 500,000 listeners for each of the
Extracts from the programme were included in Radio 4’s Pick of the Week
programme on two occasions, and there are plans to repeat the series
later this year with the additional possibility of it being broadcast on
the BBC World Service.
The programme’s content was also analysed by the Guardian, Independent
and Times Higher Education Supplement.
In terms of message content, retrospective analyses by the university
and Brian King were generally positive. Despite the usual undergraduate
mischief and dons’ disagreements, few people it seems were shocked by
any of the issues uncovered.
When one compares The University to other fly-on-the-wall projects,
Warwick appears to have escaped lightly. Radio reveals a lot less than
television, however, so the risk was reduced.
Warwick did well to check out the producer’s credentials in advance and
to agree on the basic ground rules. In this way it was generally in
control of the process.
Whether the programme’s initial scheduling - weekday mornings - really
reached its target audience may be open to question. A future broadcast
on World Service, however, would be a real bonus.
Client: Warwick University
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Fly-on-the-wall documentary by BBC Radio 4
Timescale: January-March 1997