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Inside story

As a former journalist, Julie-Anne Houldey is well aware of what makes a good news story. On the 'Bournemouth Evening Echo'during the mid-Eighties, she saw many press releases thrown away because they were boring, or because the sender was obviously seeking free publicity. Fifteen years later, as external communications manager at Bournemouth and Poole College, it is Anne Houldey who regularly sends releases to the 'Echo', as well as to other local media.

"Press releases must have substance to them," she says. "It's a question of building up trust so that, when something happens at the college, the press don't just see it as a piece of PR to push our sales."

After leaving the 'Echo', Anne Houldey worked as a reporter with the local radio station 2CR, before moving to London to become a press officer with the Met.

Prior to her appointment at Bournemouth College two years ago, public relations was handled by a marketing manager.

Among her first tasks was re-establishing her network of press contacts, including meeting editors and education reporters from local newspapers. "My specialism is in public relations and communication. I have an understanding of people's needs," she explains.

Last year, when a group of students attended a London march to protest againstuniversity tuition fees, they were interviewed by The NRG, a Bournemouth radio station which is aimed at 16 to 25-year-olds.

Gaining wider publicity is more tricky, although Meridian TV was keen to report on the launch of a new course for cabin staff at Bournemouth Airport.

According to Anne Houldey, the good relationship she had developed among reporters was demonstrated during a lecturers' pay dispute last summer.

"We have a very militant union base and so there was a lot of potentially damaging activity," she says. "I would never try to stop the press from talking to unions, but they spoke to the principal as well and we were able to make sure that the reporting was balanced."

Lecturers who believe their departments are doing something interesting will often approach Anne Houldey and ask her to "put it in the papers". She has to explain it is not as simple as that and, occasionally, has to point out that perhaps the media may not see an activity as being quite as interesting as the lecturer thinks.

"A lot of PR people think that their job is to paper over the cracks and manipulate the truth," she adds. "But it's really a question of managing information and building up a good enough relationship with the media so that you achieve a fair balance."

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