Education PR being squeezed, warns colleges comms director

A blurring of the line between comms and marketing is threatening the role of PR in colleges, a leading education communicator has warned.

Colleges: Higher education budget cuts hit PR
Colleges: Higher education budget cuts hit PR

Ben Verinder, head of comms for the Association of Colleges, said PR was losing the battle as cuts continued to eat into further education budgets.

He spoke to PRWeek following a survey of college communicators in which 60 per cent of those quizzed felt marketing and PR were treated as ‘the same function’ – up 20 percentage points from the same survey three years ago.

‘When the functions are seen as combined, and senior managers aren’t understanding the differences, the priorities of senior management will focus on the marketing function and squeeze the role of PR,’ he said.

The survey included both marketers and PR professionals and ran across more than 100 colleges. None of those surveyed saw PR as the dominant function.

While 25 per cent answered that PR and marketing budgets had gone up in the past three years, 45 per cent said budgets had dropped.

Verinder also pointed to the fact 50 per cent of those polled said they needed training in reputation, crisis and issues management, while 42 per cent said the same of PR evaluation.

He said: ‘Over the past ten years, the external pressures on colleges have gone up. I was expecting a real leap forward in terms of comms but we’ve not seen the necessary paradigm shift.

‘There’s clearly a nervousness among practitioners to deal with significant challenges when it comes to PR
difficulties, for example in crisis comms. This is concerning as this is where PR is often able to prove its mettle.’

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