Tag Archives: PR students

A photo-call for digital media practice in PR education

I have just had a paper accepted for the APT (Academic Practice and Technology) conference, 2014, due to take place on my home turf of Greenwich in July this year.

It follows a project I received Greenwich Connect Seed Fund resourcing to provide thirteen digital cameras, together with Photoshop editing software for use with students throughout this academic year.

'Team Emily' interpret the brief for 'Project Wild Thing'

‘Team Emily’ interpret the brief for ‘Project Wild Thing’

We’ve used the cameras in a number of ways, and the Greenwich Connect team interviewed me themselves for a paper they presented at the LSE earlier this year – Bryant, P., Coombs, A. and Pazio, M. (2014) Are we having fun yet? Introducing play and experimentation into learning innovation through social media. In: OER14: Building Communities of Open practice, 23-25 Apr 2014, Newcastle, UK.  Excuse my fat face…..

Introduction to Project:

Generating Greater Engagement:

Developing Professional Identity:

Developing as a Community:

While I will discuss this in the academic context in which it is posed in the paper I have put to the forthcoming conference in a future post, I thought it was worth sharing a few examples of the way students have been able to get their hands much ‘dirtier’ with regard to photography, as outlined in the videos above:

1)  Generating Greater Engagement:

Students have been able to use the cameras to produce collateral in response to real live briefs, as opposed to such responses being ‘academic’ exercises.  For example, students were asked to develop ideas for media photocalls, and executions to encourage audience participation and sharing for the ‘Project Wild Thing’ initiative (see photo above) – and to include in assessed portfolios.

2) Developing Professional Identity:

Final year student (2013-14) Nenna Ofoegbu

Final year student (2013-14) Nenna Ofoegbu

Students were encouraged to use the digital cameras to develop a image that they felt comfortable with to be used in a ‘shop window’ on Pinterest.

3) Developing as a Community:

PR Fraternity students at Weber Shandwick HQ

PR Fraternity students at Weber Shandwick HQ

Within the team, students such as Nara Mackenzie took on responsibility for documenting guest speaker visits such as creative publicist, Mark Borkowski and Polly Ravenscroft (whose clients have included X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Hollyoaks) – and group visits such as that to Weber Shandwick HQ, or client-side discussions with the 2012 winner of BBC Great British Bake-Off, John Whaite.

Students with PR Squared's Polly Ravenscroft

Students with PR Squared’s Polly Ravenscroft

Social media editor for the PR Fraternity, Jo Ayre tweeted links to the photos, which were also posted in Pinterest.  This not only raised the profile of the events, it made students who had come together at the events (across 1st, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate, plus postgraduate) develop a stronger sense of community – and made those who hadn’t come feel they had missed out on something – encouraging them to attend next time.

More on my paper in a future post, but I thought I would let you know a little bit about the project.



Guest Speaker series: PR @ University of Greenwich

With Frances being crowned the winner of the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ 2013 over Kimberley and Ruby this week, the University of Greenwich PR Fraternity is delighted to kick-off its guest speaker series for this academic year with the winner of the previous series, John Whaite.

John Whaite drops in on Nick Grimshaw's BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show

John Whaite drops in on Nick Grimshaw’s BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show

As well as discussing his experiences on the series and his views on how this one went, John will be discussing what it was like managing the media attention that the victory brought in its wake, and the consumer PR for his subsequent cookery book  and Greenwich-based cookery classes.

John Whaite makes the cover of Attitude magazine

John Whaite makes the cover of Attitude magazine

Immediately afterwards, John will be judging the audience’s attempts to bake, so if want to join us, bring along your buns, cup-cakes – even pretzels – for a cake-fight to the finish.  So please join us – Wednesday 30th October at 12.00pm to hear John Whaite in conversation, and for a bit of a network over a taste test afterwards.  Email me for venue details – p.a.simpson@greenwich.ac.uk .

Our PR Fraternity 2013-14 PR Speaker series to date is:-

John Whaite speaks as well as bakes!

John Whaite speaks as well as bakes!

Wednesday 30th October:   John Waite; Winner, BBC Great British Bake Off, 2012.

Greenwich graduate Igrid Asoni returns from Marrakech to discuss her PR experiences

Greenwich graduate Igrid Asoni returns from Marrakech to discuss her PR experiences

Tuesday 5th November:  Ingrid Asoni; founder, Asoni Haus lifestyle management, event design and PR management company with a focus on London and Marrakech.

Simon Long welcomes Nicki Minaj to Kiss FM's Central London studios

Simon Long welcomes Nicki Minaj to Kiss FM’s Central London studios

Friday 29th November:  Simon Long; Deputy Programme Director, Kiss FM.

After a pivotal role at the BBC, Andy Parfitt now advises Saatchi & Saatchi on talent issues

After a pivotal role at the BBC, Andy Parfitt now advises Saatchi & Saatchi on talent issues

Wednesday 12th February:  Andy Parfitt; Executive Director (Talent), Saatchi & Saatchi; Chair of UK charity, Youth Music; Former Controller, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra. Held in conjunction with the university’s Big Picture lecture series.

Campaigning legend Des Wilson shares stories from his years delivering change

Campaigning legend Des Wilson shares stories from his years delivering change

Wednesday 12th March:  Des Wilson; campaigning legend: Launch Director, homelessness charity, Shelter; Director of Public Affairs, Royal Shakespeare Company; led campaign against lead in petrol at Clear; Chaired Friends of the Earth; pioneering campaigner for freedom of information; President of the Liberal Party; leading role in campaign for Sunday trading; ran Paddy Ashdown’s General Election campaign in 1992; consultant with Burson Marstellar; Director of Corporate & Public Affairs at British Airports Authority until 2000.  Held in conjunction with the university’s Big Picture lecture series.


If you think John’s media profile is all Radio 1, This Morning and Heat, he was even on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ discussing Fraces’ victory the night it was broadcast (26mins 14 seconds in).

If you are not a member of the University of Greenwich PR Fraternity, and are interested in finding out about becoming a member or supporter, and joining us at our events, do drop me a line at p.a.simpson@greenwich.ac.uk

Don’t Stop Believin’

An alternative shape for delivery of PR education?

Reflecting on what is the best shape for the most effective professional education for public relations seems to take up an ever increasing amount of my pondering time.  The relevance of PR degrees is a topic that has been much discussed before.  I have always been a strong supporter of the need for the profession to have academic degrees (every profession must have academic underpinning), but have begun to consider too whether the current set-up provides the best return for all students, for industry and academia alike.

Role for Coach and Talent Scout

Watching the excellent new series ‘Glee’ on E4 has emphasized the need to me in particular of two popularized roles – that of ‘coach’, preparing students effectively for the PR workplace, and that of ‘talent-scout’ for the industry that a conventional higher education based course director, quite rightly could not provide.  Cue tenuous excuse for a link to an extended trailer:

It could be argued that neither of these two roles is being particularly well fulfilled by the current set-up.  Providing more of an involvement for industry in the delivery of such education would also provide better scope for engaging critical reflection on the more theoretical aspects of the PR discipline, making innovation more likely, and research better informed.

Involving PR practitioners

It may also crack the thorny issue of more effective delivery of ‘Personal & Professional Development’ units, to tackle some of the more general ‘soft skill’ issues of the workplace in a more meaningful way, with the more active involvement of professionals (it could form part of their CPD).  I have heard many students compare their experience of such units to that of ‘Music and Movement’ in school.  Such issues have been explored recently in an excellent report, ‘Effective Education for Employment: A Global Perspective’, commissioned by Edexcel and Pearson, and prepared by White Loop.

Whistle-blowing, dirty washing, or too quiet?

I resigned at the end of November as course director for the BA Public Relations degree at the University of the Arts London, based at the London College of Communication.  I may return to that particular issue in a future blog entry.  It explains my radio silence for so long since my last entry.  While I was still in their employ (and in the immediate aftermath), this was for fear of an institution bigger than I ‘taking it down’ and ‘using it as evidence against me’ of something more malicious on my part.  More recently, I have not been able to decide whether I would be judged to be whistle-blowing, or merely to be washing dirty laundry in public.  Transparency can have its limits – let’s just say much of what I have seen in the HE sector would have relevance to such a discussion.

PR 'guru' Mark Borkowski with LCC Yr 2 PR students Colleen Mcleod & Course Rep Sammy Khan

Championing PR Industry Involvement

While in post for just over two years, one of the first things I did to make the academic content more relevant was to ramp-up the involvement of industry.  High profile guest speakers, specialist insights, real briefs and assistance with placements, which often turned into full-time employment on graduation were a priority.  These included:  Max Borkowski (Borkowski PR);  Sao Bui-Van (then Vice President Communications UK & Ireland, MTV Networks; now at BBC);  Colin Byrne (CEO UK & Europe, Weber Shandwick);  Dan Chung (Staff Photographer, The Guardian);  Max Clifford (Max Clifford Associates);  Bernard Donoghue (Head of Government & Public Affairs, VisitBritain);  Jill Franklin (MD, Franklin Rae PR);  Dan French (Clifford French – sports & entertainment consultancy);  Colleen Harris (former Press Secretary to HRH, Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry);  Julia Hobsbawm (CEO, Editorial Intelligence, & London’s first professor of PR);  Ian Johnson (MD, Ian Johnson Publicity);  Mike Lee (Chairman, Vero; former Director of Communications & Public Affairs, London Olympic 2012 bid);  Janice Long (Music broadcaster, BBC Radio 2); and Donald Steel (BBC Chief Communications Advisor), to name but a few.

However, whether it was on pedagogical grounds, on economic grounds (I doubt this, as the course made a substantial profit, and such an approach would be even more cost effective in the long run) – or as I suspect, simple institutional inertia, getting any of this content (which is what the students quoted as why they were on there) formalised as part of the course, or prioritised was near impossible, beyond the personal commitment of myself and my colleague, former BT corporate PR, Sarah Roberts-Bowman.

BA Public Relations graduates (2008-09) Jemma Arjun & Susan Kellie

Kate Tartsus, Lucy Pond, Cally Sheard, Richard Cain and Triinu Linhein

Wai-Lum Wong

Watching ‘Glee’ has reminded me how much I miss teaching the students on the course, and how proud I was of the recent graduating cohort.  It has also made me re-double my efforts at reflecting on what future directions education in this area might most effectively take.

A social entrepreneurial model for PR education?

Alongside university based provision, rather than seeing the number of such degrees continue to expand, is there scope to look at developing a degree model that has feet placed firmly in the profession, with validation provided by academia (rather than the reverse), built around a social entrepreneurial model of delivery?  Are there other alternative shapes for provision?  Or is the current set-up just fine, and ready for changes that will also present themselves in government HE policy?

BA Creative Advertising graduates (2008-09) Brenda Adoch-Moro & Alfred Malmros. I was lucky enough to be Alfred's supervisor for his dissertation on the role of rhetoric in advertising, for which he secured a first. He has already been snapped up by leading agency Anomaly.

New School PR? An alternative approach?

– Could such a model provide a structure for graduates to continue to deploy their skills in a supportive environment as freelancers, on behalf of the third sector or to widen the availability to PR services to those who find themselves ecluded from them, should these graduates not be lucky enough to secure employment immediately on graduation?

– Are there ways that such a model could encourage greater collaboration between industry and education, providing more scope not only for research and creativity, but for individual practitioners to reflect, and challenge the way the things are done?  It could provide a more informal or social space for practitioners at all levels (and in a range of disciplines) to network, and be joined by the brightest of the new generation of students.  As a social enterprise, the driver for events could be content, rather than prohibitive conference fees.

– Or might it simply be a case of being contracted by universities to provide more relevant work-related learning opportunities, and to coordinate top placement opportunities across the PR profession – you could say a place for the industry to do a bit of CSR on itself?

During the coming term, I’m doing some visiting lecturing for the PR Academy (which delivers the teaching of CIPR qualifications for practitioners) and the University of Greenwich (where I was part of the team that wrote the BA degree programme), but am determined to spend time reflecting on this, and talking to potential collaborators.  Do let me know what your thoughts, even if you think I’m barking up the wrong tree.  I’ve already stumbled across a similar model that is being put together in the advertising world – the School of Communication Arts – so have not been completely put off.

Photo credits:  Thom Will, Susan Kellie, Lucy Pond, Wai-Lum Wong and Brenda Adoch-Moro.