OPINION: Pearson’s Brendan O’Grady on why education stories matter
Pearson’s head of financial and corporate communications, Brendan O’Grady, discusses why education is ‘the great global growth story of the next decade’ and why PR has a duty to raise awareness of stories within the sector.
Education journalists are feeling squeezed.
As the BBC’s Sean Coughlan wrote recently, and PR colleagues confirmed to Gorkana, like many specialists, education journos have ever dwindling time to dig through the background noise and focus on what’s important.
Looking after corporate communications for Pearson, the world’s leading learning company, I clearly have a vested interest – there is always room for more education coverage. So what can we do about it?
Demand for education coverage hasn’t declined – far from it. Education and skills are increasingly key to big stories across many other reporters’ beats. We find that education stories have a much bigger impact with political, business and technology reporters than they used to. (BBC Online’s Knowledge Economy series – now renamed “Global Education” – often reaches into these areas). Education comms people need to expand our reach – and make sure we know why an education story might matter to a tech reporter, or a political correspondent.
A small army of education tweeters and bloggers has emerged too – the best of them sharing smart analysis gained from practical experience in the classroom or in government with tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers. The Pearson corporate affairs team probably spends as much time now talking to vocal experts on social media channels as we do to “traditional” journalists.
But dedicated education specialists, who know the history, the players, and the pitfalls are even more important. Experienced, knowledgeable, critical journalists are a public good – holding governments, quangos, and organisations like Pearson to account. They help us up our game. Like other policy areas, education is changing fast, and it can be hard to decipher what will transform teachers’ and students’ lives, from the latest fad or smartphone app.
Education organisations, large and small, have massively inspirational stories to tell of students and I doubt there’s a sector that has a bigger naturally occurring “human interest”. Because of this, we now try to showcase far more of the stories we hear from students and teachers around the world through our own digital platforms, as well as by sharing them with journalists.
But lots of education organisations’ PR plans still often fail the news test, or drown in a long press release or pitch email (we are by no means perfect here). It’s incumbent on education comms people to try to be genuinely useful to education experts in the media – and not slip into undue hyperbole about our own organisations’ contributions.
I believe education is the great global growth story of the next decade. Digital technology is on the cusp of revolutionising great teaching – extending, not replacing, the work of great teachers. The global economic race means that countries see education as a strategic investment – and education is the surest route out of poverty whether you grow up in London or Lagos.
Professional communicators in education have a duty to help unearth great stories – and sending fewer, better, emails to journalists wouldn’t hurt either.