Thank you, Fred Inglis, for jolting me out of my false consciousness (“Incinerated by the branding iron”, 18 July). We can all agree that university branding often seems flaky, while managerialism has some deeply counterproductive effects, most alarmingly in attempts to commoditise knowledge and higher learning. But until I read Inglis’ polemic, I had been labouring under the misapprehension that I was part of the solution, not the problem.
Inglis is a bit mean about human resources and public relations people (“gormless”) and senior managers (“mindless”), but they are paragons compared with the miserable species to which I belong, the business and management academic. I am not doing “a proper job”, unlike people teaching, say, physics or Chinese; I am “mendacious” and “slippery”, but also (thank goodness) “sugary”. I speak entirely in the advertising language that twists through the sector like Whorfian knotweed.
To coin a strapline, Fred Said Right!
Inglis is a bit confused about advertising, PR, marketing and branding, not to mention HR and the rest, but these are trivial distinctions: it’s all propaganda, right? And in my experience, university senior managers seldom ask the advice of their own business and management academics, preferring to hire external brand consultants with their bad copywriting and worse advice. But the point is there’s an ideological connection, isn’t there? The mere presence of business and management “studies” among the proper subjects legitimises everything that is bad about university policy. As the enemy within, we shiny suited business studies arseholes need to learn to abandon our marketing-speak to write in a nice neutral way that preserves the timeless scholarly values of truth and impartiality. We need to Write Like Fred! (I’m on a roll here.)
I can see now that my pathetic attempts to instil critical intellectual values into my vocationally minded students might be well-intentioned but are, in fact, merely the projection of my subconscious guilt. I should be teaching them Chinese (never mind that half of them speak it rather well already, it’s a proper subject). My ideas about “critical marketing”, I now understand, are a facet of my neoliberal self-governance, a screen of delusion that hides my own anomie from myself. I have so deeply internalised the ideology of the market that I lack the reflexivity to see myself for what I am: a somnambulant storm trooper of spin, a propagandist of profit, a pedagogue of platitudes.
Thanks Fred. Just one thing: the examples of brand turgidity you rightly ridicule ignore one shining example, the stentorian Vision 2015 from the web pages of the university where you are emeritus, Warwick. Perhaps we can go to re-education camp together?
Professor of marketing (speak)
Royal Holloway, University of London
In a reasonable world, Fred Inglis would pay my dry cleaning bill. After all, his article on branding was, I’m sure, designed to cause me and other marketing and communications professionals to spit out our coffee in disbelief.
In a masterclass of academic aloofness, Inglis displays contempt for a number of professional services and fires irrational potshots of codswallop at the “most abominable monster now threatening the intellectual health and the integrity of pure enquiry as well as conscientious teaching”. In his eyes, this monster is not the raft of government-driven changes to the sector but the function within a university that aims to attract students.
Members of professional services invest a huge amount of time and effort to their profession and make a significant contribution to the smooth running and success of our universities. Inglis’ article seems only to highlight the bitter, arrogant and aloof nature of some veteran academics who are struggling to say goodbye to the halcyon days.
Such scholars perceive a threat to their cosy, insular and unaccountable existence and refuse to accept that (whether we like it or not) universities these days have to operate like businesses.
D. J. Black
As first a practitioner and now a lecturer in public relations (for 10 and 16 years respectively), I neither recognise nor accept Fred Inglis’ conflation of my profession with “bad art” and “‘a corruption of consciousness’”. Understood and practised properly, PR has nothing to do with deception of the self or others. Instead of manipulating people’s perceptions to make organisations appear better, it helps management to confront what is wrong with their organisations and to communicate with those who matter in order to change it.
PR is also about politeness in its most important sense of consideration for the expertise and concerns of others. Borrowing a derogatory and inaccurate description from an unrelated field and applying it to an area of study in which many fellow academics are working is neither accurate nor polite.
Senior lecturer in public relations
Manchester Metropolitan University Business School
I think it is somewhat ironic that as a result of Fred Inglis’ diatribe against “branding”, I now know the names of four, presumably reasonably successful, marketing agencies (should I ever decide I need one). I wonder whether Inglis realised that he might become the unwitting friend of marketing with these examples of “product placement”?