Turn heads with quality spin

12th January 2007 at 00:00
The world of public relations is normally associated with wealthy corporations and Westminster spin. But state schools in Britain have started to get in on the act and hire their own PR advisers to improve their images.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations reported that its education committee has swelled by a third in three years, representing a rapid growth in school PR.

"Traditionally, it's been something only private schools and universities were interested in. But now we're seeing more and more state schools," said Emma Leech, head of the institute's education committee.

Heightened competition for pupils, the associated scramble for funding, and a growing appetite for funding buildings through corporate sponsorship, have all added to schools' burgeoning interest in image.

Ms Leech said: "It's linked to the whole idea of pupils as consumers.

League tables are more important, people expect more information and parents have more choice." The advantages are numerous: attracting pupils, high calibre staff and business sponsors, as well as combating negative coverage.

Dean Blake, who works for John Cabot technology college in Bristol, estimates that he generated pound;30,000 of free publicity for his school in his first 18 months on the job, as well as helping to turn around the reputation of nearby Hartcliffe engineering college.

He works there on a freelance basis. He said: "It's about getting good stories out there. We have very good contacts with the local press and we drip feed stories."

At a time when around 80 per cent of school funding depends on pupil numbers, it's easy to see why headteachers turn to the professionals, according to Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

But he is keen that the increasing reliance on PR does not give wealthy schools an unfair advantage.

"It's all very well if you can afford it. But what about the rest?" he said.

Enhance your appeal

Employ somebody in the role who is always contactable. This person should be prepared to give their mobile number to journalists.

If you promise you are going to do something, do it. Don't make promises you can't keep.

Target your local free paper. It goes to every house.

Keep your press releases short, concise and interesting - it's the only way to get stories published.

Tips: Dean Blake, school PR adviser

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