Guildford College employed an external firm to handle its PR shortly after it became a corporation in 1993. Although the Surrey college has a strong marketing department, principal Lynne Sedgmore believes it gains from employing the journalistic know-how of Colin Moore, a director at The Parallel Group.
"Specialist skills come into play when you're dealing with media relations," she says.
Colin Moore, whose offices are just five minutes' walk away from the college, publishes two or three press releases every month and liaises with contacts, such as staff on The Surrey Advertiser.
Last year, when the paper was threatening to run a story suggesting drug-taking was a serious problem among students, he suggested that Lynne Sedgmore should talk to the paper and stress the positive steps she was taking to keep drugs off the campus. "We turned it right around so that it ame out as a positive article," she says.
According to Colin Moore, it would have been foolish for the college to have claimed that none of its 20,000 students had ever come into contact with drugs or, worse still, to have allowed an article to have appeared without a full response from the college. "You can't bury your head in the sand and refuse to comment," he adds.
The college, which pays The Parallel Group about pound;20,000 a year, does not forbid staff from talking to the press. However, most press calls are referred through Parallel or the college's marketing manager.
Colin Moore, who used to freelance on national newspapers, often meets staff to get ideas for potential press releases. "We are always on the look-out for human interest stories. As an ex-journalist, I'm amazed that people (in FE) often don't recognise what journalists are looking for."