An academic who asked a communications director to publicise news of their birthday in the national press was one of the more surprising results to come out of a survey of university media teams.
Asked to name the most unusual things that researchers had asked them to publicise, other managers volunteered “attendance at a conference”, “an internal workshop”, a “trip abroad to visit another university” and “their own business”.
But these examples of academics not understanding what communications departments are paid to do were the exception rather than the rule, with only one in 10 of the directors questioned by Gerard Kelly & Partners, a public relations agency, describing their academic colleagues as being unsupportive.
The survey asked 36 communications directors what their team’s priorities were, with aiding domestic student recruitment coming out on top. It was classed as very important by 80 per cent of respondents.
Promoting research was not far behind, on 68 per cent, followed by overseas recruitment on 63 per cent. Other popular choices were internal communications (53 per cent) and public engagement (46 per cent).
The survey found that communications directors are honest about their department’s limitations. While 60 per cent felt that they generally did a good job of telling their institution’s stories, 29 per cent did not, and 77 per cent believed that their university could improve.
Some 86 per cent of respondents said that the single biggest thing holding their team back was a lack of staff. When asked what frustrated them most in their job, 63 per cent cited a lack of budget.
Gerard Kelly, a founding partner of GKP, said: “It’s good to see that most academic colleagues value their communications teams, despite complaints over the past few years about the growth of managerial roles. Nevertheless, most directors are clearly feeling that they are being asked to do a lot with insufficient staff and resources.”
There was, however, agreement on one issue: 83 per cent of the communications directors said that it was important “for our vice-chancellor to have a strong media profile”.