I am not a dinosaur. That is, I know that universities need press offices and officers, and indeed our own press officers have helped me out of several scrapes. The idea that a university could now exist without someone to help filter the calls about access/Higgs whatever/ancient sex is pretty unthinkable.
But how pro-active should the press office be? The husband pointed me to a trio of jobs at the Open University advertised in the paper earlier in the week, which makes the heart sink. (Let me say straightaway that I am sure that the OU is no worse than any uni... so I'm not getting at them in particular, but at the 'system' in general.)
Ok. After all the introductory stuff about what an exciting time it is to be at the OU.. the first job is a for a "reputation manager".. this is the brief:
"You will raise the profile of our academic excellence by developing stories and replaying them across a wide range of channels and audiences, including media and social media. You will need strong communication and organisational skills to lead and coordinate activities across the University and harness the support of our ambassadors."
The next one is aimed at 'social media":
"We’re looking for a creative communications professional, who is comfortable in the online and social media environment, to join our Strategic Communications Programme (SCP) team to deliver a step change in how we attract students and sponsors. SCP is an integrated Marketing and Communications initiative to build our academic reputation and harness our ambassadors and advocates. You will develop our reputation for thought leadership in areas of special interest to the University."
The other is focussed I guess at employers:
"We’re looking for a creative communications professional to join our Strategic Communications Programme (SCP) team to deliver a step change in how we attract students and sponsors. SCP is an integrated Marketing and Communications initiative to build our academic reputation and harness our ambassadors and advocates. You will engage employers with the benefits of sponsoring staff on OU qualifications, and students with the impact an OU qualification can have on their career."
You may wonder what these jobs actually involve doing... what would a day in the office actually involve? Not entirely clear, but the Further Particulars do add a few details.
Take the social media one. Here are some of the main duties:
• Working with Digital Engagement, contribute to a pan-university approach to social media activity.
• Work with the Senior Manager, Stakeholders and Ambassadors, on the development of our thought leadership event programme harnessing social media to increase our impact with this programme.
• Day-to-day quality control of all student and employer facing content in our primary Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn presences.
• Work with academic staff to develop their social media profiles for impact on external audiences such as potential students and the media.
• Work with staff to optimize their text, audio, and video content and social media channels, evaluating existing content. Dependent on their abilities, this may include producing and editing digital content for them.
Well apart for some elements of the social media police being involved here, you may still not be much wiser. Try the reputation manager:
• Develop and implement a new Academic Excellence Communications Strategy for the University based on a focused approach aimed at maximum impact on key opinion formers and decision-makers.
• Develop and maintain knowledge of key areas of OU academic excellence and publicise and disseminate news and information accordingly to target audiences, liaising with the media relations team as appropriate for high impact stories.
• Network across faculties, institutes and relevant service units to maximise news gathering, dissemination and impact.
• Support the development and implementation of stakeholder engagement/communications for specific high impact projects and initiatives.
• Create presentations on academic excellence for the PVC (Academic) and other senior staff and provide briefings and guidance for presentation opportunities.
• Manage high profile events aimed to raise the profile of key academics
Or the employer engagement post:
• Commission and edit news stories for the bi-monthly staff enews and liaise with the Commercial Direction, Head of Careers and PVC (Academic) to ensure that individual achievement is acknowledged with personal thanks and the best examples promoted to the Vice Chancellor for celebrating in his video addresses.
(So we learn that the VC of the OU makes "video addresses")
At this point I get to feel dead old fashioned. I really want basic uni research to get widely disseminated. But is this the way to do it? This reeks to me of another UK university which actually flew out journalists to report on its excavation in Italy, and (of course) got loads of publicity... is this the most interesting excavation in the world. NO! Do they have the most efficient pr team? yes.
And just think ofthe cost. In the OU's case, they are appointing three people for two years, on a scale of £37-42k. You have to double that, at least, for all pension contributions, overheads etc. That means we're talking more than half a million on this enterprise. Cant help think how much frontline research might have been paid for with that.