Take nothing for granted, independent school communicators told
The independent education sector can take nothing for granted, Telegraph Media Group deputy chair Guy Black – Lord Black of Brentwood – said in his closing keynote address to the AMCIS Annual Conference.
Lord Black was speaking on the topic of ‘the changing world of communications’ to an audience of 200+ at the conference for the independent school sector’s admissions, marketing and communications professionals. He said:
“The independent education sector – which has largely been shielded from political animosity for generations – can take nothing for granted. We can’t even take as a given the continuing support of a Conservative Government which is already sacrificing so many things on the amorphous, rhetorical altar of so-called “levelling-up” instead of preserving the timeless values of individual freedom and liberty. We know we can be a vital, real part of whatever is the “levelling up” agenda – through the provision of bursaries, the charitable activities we undertake, and the partnerships we maintain with State Schools – but that is certainly now how it is perceived.”
Whilst acknowledging that there have been “straws in the wind” for some time, Lord Black referred to the motivation behind the recent announcement from the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge as “basically social engineering”. He said:
“I am sure I was not alone in being shocked by the Trumpesque “fake news” comments from the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge, Professor Stephen Toope, that – for what are in essence ideological reasons, indeed basically social engineering – that it must be ‘very, very clear we are intending to reduce over time the number of people who are coming from independent school backgrounds into places like Oxford or Cambridge. We’re doing it by welcoming others, not by telling those people’ – note the rhetorical effect of that phrase ‘those people’ as if independent school pupils were somehow removed from the rest of society – ‘we don’t want you.’”
Black pointed out the support from Conservative MPs for Cambridge’s stance and the impact on Oxbridge:
“…he [Professor Toope] was supported not only by Labour MPs, but even by Conservative MPs, one of whom who said this only ‘scratched the surface.’ But the losers will be Oxbridge who will miss out on great talent: the quality of their applicants will inexorably decline while those from other Universities will rise. The brightest and the best must now be thinking: ‘what is the point of Oxbridge?’ And they would be right… Cambridge [will] slide inexorably down the international league tables – with profound consequences for Britain, culturally, politically, intellectually and economically. It may be too late to fight back – but we should try.
“It affects only small number of pupils, of course, but it is – as I said – a political straw in the wind that the challenges are there, and that the political base of support is not nearly as solid as it used to be.”
Lord Black spoke about the rapidly changing nature of communications. He said that today’s children can benefit from the next phase of the ongoing digital revolution ie artificial intelligence:
“…the advent of artificial intelligence… will have a profound impact on all our lives. That will bring together, for the first time, minds and machines, products and platforms, and the core and the crowd in a way which none of us can yet predict. For many, this great insurgency is destroying businesses, fundamentally changing the nature of work, and opening up huge debates about individual privacy and the future role of ownership and copyright. But, but, but – the generation now at our schools will be presented with immense opportunities from that revolution.”
Lord Black delivered three additional pieces of advice to those responsible for school communications. He extolled the necessity of life-long learning:
“the importance of life-long learning… [is] something our schools instil into our pupils – that learning in the digital age will not stop at the end of school or University – but I think it is incumbent on us all.”
He called their attention to the increasing premium on quality journalism:
“In a world full of digital noise, full of news which is genuinely “fake”, not just something someone doesn’t like, full of the gossip which powers social media sites, there is now an increasing premium on quality journalism… That trend toward reliable, regulated information is going steadily to increase across the sector.”
And drove home the growing importance of data in communications and in relationships with journalists:
“The future of news and methods of communication is going to be increasingly personal – and based, of course, on data, which is of fundamental importance. From the personalised user reading experience to the delivery of advertising content, data is central to the future. That is going to be the most important way to forging a bond with consumers and customers – by using data to drive discussions, deep dive on insights and develop hypotheses.
“And there are big lessons in journalists’ increasing thirst for data for those in PR and marketing – and in a market where analytics and data metrics are rapidly evolving. A report last year on this subject showed that most PR professionals tend to downplay the importance of data – and 6 in 10 journalists agreed with the statement that ‘the way most companies share information with the media is outdated’. The days of an impersonal press release and fine-tuned corporate quote are going if not gone. Give journalists data – they want it because in so many ways yours is always going to be better and more up to date that what they have. Where journalists and commentators were once very sceptical about it, that has given way to a very keen interest in how data and metrics can help newsrooms reach their own target audiences and – crucially – to do better journalism.”
Lord Black ended by saluting the work of the audience:
“As I hope I have demonstrated, communication in the digital age is in some ways easier than it used to be – but in so many ways much more complex, much more difficult, much more targeted and analytical, much more based on communities of interest than it used to be. Our schools are lucky to have such extraordinary professionals working for us. Thank you for all you do.”