In the first of our ‘Life at Kellogg’ blog posts, Kellogg Fellow Carolyne Culver writes about her background as a communications professional and the increasing role that PR, Marketing and Communications have to play at the University of Oxford.
Living in a village where we have been helping one another bale out flood damaged homes by torchlight I understand the value of community. I don’t miss living in a city. Similarly, colleges provide a community atmosphere that you don’t get in many universities with their crowded lecture theatres and large halls of residence.
I had been at the University of Oxford for nearly five years, as Head of Strategic Communications in the Public Affairs Directorate, before I became a fellow at Kellogg College. We have little direct contact with students in the Public Affairs Directorate so I like to meet them and find out about their studies and research.
In Wellington Square, where the University administration is based, we have a lot of contact with academics – working on media stories, videos, printed publications like Oxford Today and the prospectuses, and events like the London Lecture and China Lecture. However, it’s good to talk to them about their work without the pressure of producing something PR related out of it.
When thinking about people who work in PR, characters like Malcolm Tucker in TV comedy The Thick of It spring to mind. If only every day was as full of drama, and we could fill the air with such creative use of the English language!
There can be drama – and irony. We recently held a session about our plans for communicating in a crisis, just a few hours before a bomb alert emptied our offices in Wellington Square and neighbouring buildings.
Some people resent money being spent on PR and Communications when it could be spent on education and research, but if we don’t have media and government relations professionals we would have nobody dedicated to defending the reputation of the collegiate University and promoting our research to the public and parliament: the purse string holders, policy makers and voters whose support higher education needs.
Claims like that of the Prime Minister in 2011, that there had only been one Black student at Oxford the previous year, would go uncorrected – potentially deterring the brightest minds from the Black, and other ethnic minority communities applying to Oxford. We would have no website; no one to design and print publications; no University events.
Other universities are spending a lot more on PR and Marketing. We are competing with Russell Group universities and the top global institutions, but we are not under the same pressure as the vast majority of universities in this country. Our PR is much more focused on reputation management than Marketing: correcting misperceptions of the University, and promoting positive stories about our research impact and our access work. So it’s a different challenge, but a more interesting one I think.
The College has been forward thinking in appointing its first dedicated Communications Officer, Naomi Saffery, who is one of only a handful of college communication professionals at the University of Oxford. We also have a communications committee chaired by our Vice-President Chris Davies and attended by fellows, staff and students.
PR and Marketing professionals often move around the sectors – private, charity, government, education, culture and museums – and bring a wealth of experience and ideas with them as a consequence. I have worked in the government and charity sectors and Naomi’s background is the arts and charity sector having worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum, Glyndebourne and for a marketing agency working with charity clients including Crisis and Alzheimer’s Society.
As we know, the academic community at Kellogg benefits from the presence of students who are pursuing their careers at the same time. It’s also positive that Kellogg has welcomed people from the University’s central administration and other administrative areas of the University to become fellows, because we have a lot to learn from one another.
Kellogg will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. Before the College was established someone wanting to undertake a graduate degree while continuing with their careers, or other responsibilities, could not do so at Oxford. Oxford is the better for Kellogg having opened the doors of scholarship to these individuals, and I am grateful that it opened its doors to me.
About the author: Carolyne Culver is Head of Strategic Communications in the University’s Public Affairs Directorate. Her role includes overseeing communications strategies for major University projects and advising and supporting the University, departments and colleges in their communications activities. Follow her on Twitter @CarolyneCulver