When it comes to 'air time', education never gets the attention or recognition that it deserves. It comes under the spotlight only during the annual cycle of exam results, changes to government policy and episodes of 'crisis'.
BBC news coverage, for example, has devoted far more time to sport and the arts over the past 12 months - and yet education affects everyone. It is vital to economic growth and social equality.
Our aim as a specialist PR consultancy for education is to boost air time and show the power of education as a driving force for improvement and human advancement. This month, we've announced our mission as being 'all about education'. We are building on our 25-year track record in working across nurseries, schools, further and higher education, and work-based skills and training providers - and the agencies, charities and commercial partners supporting educators.
However, we aren't just interested in education in the traditional sense of institutions and providers that impart knowledge, as our philosophy is about education taking place for everyone, every day, everywhere. Much of our award-winning work has addressed issues associated with public education - campaigns to engage and 'educate' about various life-changing issues, such as public health campaigns or social enterprise programmes - or education in the workplace.
Education is a highly networked sector in which a detailed knowledge of policy, practice and the different players is vital. It also requires a huge level of cultural empathy. Our success is based on recruiting talented PR professionals, usually from relevant in-house comms or specialist media roles, and drawing on their experience of 'living within' education to develop them as accomplished consultants. We have also set up a network of specialist associates who bring high-value expertise in serving client needs such as fundraising and international partners.
As one of the top ten digital comms consultancies in PRWeek's 2011 rankings, we appreciate the significance of online channels. Education is about access, debate and sustained engagement - and there is no better medium to facilitate this globally than the web and social media.
One of the biggest issues we have witnessed recently is the dramatic opening up of education markets and the explosion of choice. This applies as much to an 18-year-old starting out on the career ladder, considering the next stage of education, as to someone already in the workplace focusing on developing skills. There are masses of choices to be made on where and how to access education, and there is a need for providers to be clear about what they offer, to ensure they find and communicate differentiation, how they are innovative, and what makes their approach to education right for specific individuals.
Our job at Communications Management is to help make this complex marketplace work effectively for everyone involved: to create visibility and understanding so that the best possible choices are made; and to help individuals and organisations see what the different forms of development can do for them or to get access to the right expertise and innovations.
Our CSR programme supports schools and sponsors award schemes, while our consultants are encouraged to volunteer as school governors or specialist project advisers. We also have a 'learning culture' under which we continually seek to improve our expertise. This was acknowledged when we won Gold and Silver medals in PRWeek's 'Best Places to Work' series.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
- Specialist journalists make the best specialist PROs. True or false?
It depends on their ability or willingness to learn a consultancy style and work alongside clients. Specialist knowledge helps in terms of building respect and rapport, but translating that into an ongoing partnership is something else.
- How do you find spokespeople to whom your market responds positively?
By balancing credibility and accessibility. In education, there is concern over how 'knowledge' is passed on and by whom. At the same time, frustration is growing with academic commentators who insist on esoteric subtleties and terms. Professor Cary Cooper, with whom we've worked, achieves a good balance.
Justin Shaw is managing director of Communications Management.