What fewer education reporters means for PRs

BBC education correspondent, Sean Coughlan, recently published an opinion piece on the international education and innovation title WISE ed.review, which argues that there are fewer reporters in the education sector and this means that “deserving” stories do not always get covered. Gorkana asks PRs from Catherine Lane and Mango Marketing what this means for PRs in the education sector.

Earlier this month, Coughlan, the BBC education correspondent, wrote about the challenges education journalists face. He said: “There are fewer journalists writing about education, they have less time, they’re less well funded, they have smaller budgets. There are exceptions to this – and it’s different in different parts of the media – but the long term, broader picture is of less time, more stories.”

He also described the interest in the sector from PRs and how difficult it was to deal with all the information he was sent: “As a meeting ended last week, I looked at my mobile phone and saw that 105 emails had arrived since the meeting had begun. Almost all of these were from public relations firms promoting ideas for stories.

“Doubtless many of these ideas will be good ones, deserving to be brought to a wider public. Many of these will be projects into which much time and money will have been invested. But there’s barely time to even scan the email before another information flash flood begins.”

So, how do PRs in the education sector deal with increased competition for attention and where can they make opportunities to further raise exposure for stories?

Make use of influencers

Sue Murray, director at education specialist Mango Marketing, explained that for both journalists and PR professionals, knowing your sector, contacts and network is everything. She said: “Fostering relationships with influencers in the sector means you know who you can go to if you need a comment quickly, and platforms like Twitter help enormously with this.

“Use it as a tool to build your network, and to build goodwill amongst your influencers and it will pay dividends; your followers will help you find people to interview if you need to expand your contacts. The more you engage with people on Twitter, the more influential your profile becomes.”

Look out for alternative channels

Catherine Lane, head of PR at Catherine Lane PR which has worked with education brands including GL Education Group, said changes in publishing has meant key education titles have invested in alternative ways of engaging with audiences.

“Key education titles have invested in engaging online content to fill in this gap and the teacher blogger, forums and Twitter communities are some of the most active professional communities in the UK.”

She added: “Many education events are thriving and the education associations that the teaching community belong to have no plans to disappear. All of these provide alternative channels that help PR professionals get their message out to their communities, if you approach them in the right way.”

A journalist’s view:

Jonathan Swift, editor at Education Today magazine, says that he has seen the trend in his experience and that in this case the role of PR becomes more prominent. He said: “In regards to the reduction in sector media titles, I think this is broadly true. My experience is maybe slightly more limited given I have tended to focus on the one magazine, but one thing I have noticed is that there are fewer journalists around when I go to education press events. A few seem to have moved into the blogosphere but many others have disappeared.”

He added: “I think the role of the experienced PR becomes more important in such times, when the pressure is on to hit deadlines and deliver a credible product, the sensible journalist will build a network of PRs he or she can rely on to help with copy.”

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