#163;1m PR-spend story needs ... good PR

4th November 2011 at 00:00

As a former marketing manager in further education and government, including Ofsted, I was taken aback by the #163;1 million public relations budget being proposed by United Church Schools Trust ("In a spin over an academy sponsor's #163;1m PR bill", 28 October). Many FE marketing departments, with a more complex and competitive marketing task, would delight at that sort of budget, which looks more appropriate for a national operation.

Many schools do need to improve their communications with parents and other stakeholders. The new Ofsted inspection framework and Parent View, for example, will increase pressure on schools to have a more strategic and professional approach to communications.

Professional prospectuses, websites, newsletters and blogs can help raise pupils' aspirations to produce good-quality work themselves. Some schools are very good at this. Some miss the point that their pupils are highly media and IT savvy and sub-standard communications materials can undermine aspiration.

That said, there needs to be a clear distinction between legitimate and necessary communications and PR spin. Schools and colleges should primarily spend their money on improving the educational experience and attainment of their pupils.

It is not difficult and not expensive to get coverage in local media, though there is no guarantee your audiences will spot the story, and circulation of local media has been on a drastic decline: communications strategies have to go a lot further than PR.

It would be ironic if the negative coverage this report has now received in the media might in itself require a higher budget than would have been necessary before.

Leigh Horton, Marketing consultant.

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