Image-conscious universities are beefing up their marketing and communications departments. UWIC and Durham are seeking strategic stars, while UHI is looking for networking deans. Pat Leon reports.
Competition for students and research contracts has raised the profile of marketing and communications professionals over the past decade as universities have become ever more concerned about their corporate identity and image. Whereas a lone marketing officer might previously have worked alongside a press officer and some administrative staff in an external relations office, nowadays the marketing and communications supremo leads a team. He or she may sit on the main university strategy boards and liaise with senior staff on presentational issues. Such a person may even have the power of veto over academics' public pronouncements.
Dan Langford is director of marketing and communications at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, which this week advertises for his successor.
Langford, a former UWIC student president, is leaving for the private sector after 11 years.
Such public-private crossovers are becoming increasingly common as people open their eyes to career possibilities. "There was a time when marketers saw the public sector as backward and unexciting. That's all changing," Langford says. "Universities are highly complex organisations and are likely to test marketers' talents equally as much as companies that are household names."
For too many years, marketing was tactical - more concerned with choosing the right logo than with being strategic, Langford says. "Academics are realising that marketing is not about pushing paper but about engaging people, internally and externally, and it's central to the future growth and development of the whole organisation."
Building a strong identity is high on the agenda at the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute, which is advertising for its first three full-time faculty deans - arts, humanities and social sciences; business and leisure; and science and technology.
Academic registrar Jenny Tizard is eager for successful candidates - who will have a choice of locations ranging from the Outer Hebrides to Inverness - to help the campaign for university status. "We are looking for them to strengthen links with academic partners and build a sense of identity. They have to take UHI out to the region and sell it to the community, employers and students. We also want them to develop research and teaching strength. We want to develop academic leadership," Tizard says.
Durham University is offering a novel leadership opportunity in strategic planning and change management. Lee Sanders, registrar and secretary, is overseeing the launch of a unit that brings the two together. "We are starting by advertising for a director but expect to make further appointments later," he says. "Durham's going through a period of change to enhance its competitiveness. The director will be like a chief operating officer for the university. It may be a first in higher education."