Client: Industry in Education
PR Consultant: Mike Mansfield
Campaign: Towards Employability, a report on how school leavers could be
better prepared for the world of work.
Timing: December 1995 - February 1996
Cost: pounds 7,000
Industry in Education is a group of leading employers who have joined
forces to look at ways of bringing the worlds of education and industry
closer together. At the end of last year, an IiE steering group, led by
Sir John Smith former Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, put
together a 36 page report Towards Employability examining the gap
between the personal qualities of today’s school leavers and the
recruitment needs of employers.
The report drew on MORI surveys, CBI reports and academic research, and
is by no means a light read, revealing that Britain’s surly youth is
costing the country pounds 8 billion in benefits, lost production and
additional training needs.
Mike Mansfield was brought into to gain publicity for and encourage
policy debate on Towards Employability, with the wider brief of raising
the profile of IiE - a relatively low-profile grouping - and getting
education opinion-formers and policy makers to act on the report’s
findings. Mansfield had to tread a careful line between maximising
headlines and column inches, while preventing the coverage degenerating
into a hackneyed employers versus teachers debate.
Mansfield describes his approach as a ‘classic PR media relations’
campaign, which exploited Towards Employability’s more controversial
angles and the political timeliness of the whole education quality and
standards debate. Prior to the report’s official launch on 29 January,
Mansfield had sent embargoed copies to monthly magazines, PA, the
Evening Standard and the Sundays, requesting that they ‘flash don’t
splash.’ He also added a summary to the report to make its main findings
more quickly accessible.
Undoubtedly the presence of many captains of industry on the board of
IiE, excited the interest of industry correspondents on the nationals,
while sheer tenacity succeeded in getting the issue on to Radio 4’s
Today programme. Having been turned down three times, he managed to get
inclusion in R4’s news bulletins by calling the newsdesk at 1am on the
morning of the launch.
An embargo-busting and slightly over-the-top feature in the Mail On
Sunday and consistent and uncritical coverage in all the national
dailies, except the Sun. The launch of the Basic Skills Agency’s
literacy survey on the same day, fuelled interest in both reports. All
Towards Employability steering group members gave one national or
regional broadcast interview, with some featured several times.
To date, 1,200 copies of the report have been requested. The two
downsides of the campaign were a critical leader in the Times Higher
Education Supplement, and a paltry turnout of three journalists at the
Dick Whitcutt, director of IiE, says that he received many letters
opposing the THES’s leader. While he was surprised at the low turnout
for the launch, he feels that is now what can be expected for a paper
report, that journalists can study in comfort elsewhere.
Mansfield’s work shows just what a combination of business heavyweights,
a timely topic and PR pizzazz can achieve. Whitcutt says: ‘The press
pack achieved good, consistent coverage, striking the right balance
between reflecting the work of the serious people on the steering group
and being newsworthy.’
Although it is every PR’s nightmare to hold a launch for two people and
a cough, Mansfield has shown this can be avoided by solid media
relations, spadework and a product that carries the credibility of all