Academic Business Communications?

For several years, I’ve idly wondered whether the job ads of a particular company or institution provide some sort of evidence about the health of the organisation, its current strategy (in terms of long term appointments) and its tactics (short term appointments). Short term contract appointments might also reveal insights about current (or soon to be announced) projects, or even act as indicators that a project is in trouble (and hence requires more bodies throwing at it). Whatever…

Looking at appointments across a sector might also give us some sort of insight about the current concerns of the sector. Identifying bellweather or leader institutions that predict sector wide concerns through regularly being first to advertise posts or roles that others may then start to appoint may provide some sort of insight as to the direction a sector may be heading. Again, whatever.

Whilst I haven’t been tracking HE jobs in general, I do subscribe to the OU jobs feed (for a list of other UK HEIs with jobs related RSS/Atom syndication feeds, see this UK HEI autodiscoverable RSS feed directory).

My gut feeling from skimming this feed is that the OU has been appointing IT related jobs like crazy over the last year or so (read in to that what you may; high churn maybe? Or major IT restructuring?) and relatively few academic positions (from which we might conclude as observers either that the OU has a young/middle aged academic workforce, or that managing the size of the academic body through natural wastage is the order of the day). I think Google Reader will have been archiving the feed, so I guess I could try to run some sort of analysis over it. But that’s as maybe…

Anyway – today I spotted this ad: Strategic Communications Programme, Academic Reputation Manager, Communications (temporary contract for 24 months, £37,012-£44,116), reporting to the Head of Communications. Here’s the spec:

The post is formally based within The Open University Communications Unit, but the post holder will spend a significant amount of time working with academic staff and associate lecturers across the University’s seven faculties and two institutes, acting as a conduit for publicity, dissemination and impact across in the media and via the Universities’ advocates, students, alumni, staff and influential friends, making use of social media.

The post holder will report to the Head of Communications (Managing Editor) (and through him/her to the Director of Communications) and work closely with the Director of Marketing. There will be close working relationships with Communications colleagues in the Digital Engagement, Government Relations and External Affairs, Stakeholder and Media Relations teams. Specifically you will work closely with the Senior Manage Research Communications, to co-ordinate activity and avoid duplication. There are no line-management responsibilities associated with this post.


• To lead and coordinate publicity activities across the University, ensuring an optimal and consistent approach is taken to maximise the dissemination and impact of our academic excellence.
• To raise external awareness of the profile and calibre of our academics and teaching staff with key target audiences.
• To raise internal awareness of the excellence and accomplishments of our academics and teaching staff across the OU’s faculties and institutes.
• To support the Director of Communications as an OU Ambassador in engaging on, and communicating, the OU Story.


• Develop and implement a new Academic Excellence Communications Strategy for the University based on a focused approach aimed at maximum impact on key opinion formers and decision-makers.
• Develop and maintain knowledge of key areas of OU academic excellence and publicise and disseminate news and information accordingly to target audiences, liaising with the media relations team as appropriate for high impact stories.
• Network across faculties, institutes and relevant service units to maximise news gathering, dissemination and impact.
• Commission and edit news stories for the bi-monthly staff enews and liaise with the PVC (Academic) to ensure that individual achievement is acknowledged with personal thanks and the best examples promoted to the Vice Chancellor for celebrating in his video addresses.
• Working with Digital Engagement, contribute to a pan-university approach to faculty and unit based research websites and social media activity.
• Manage publication of brochures and publicity materials for both web and print.
• Day–to-day quality control of all academic excellence materials, including academic excellence-related media releases and academic excellence elements of external and internal OU publications and websites.
• Contribute to the development of case studies for the OU’s Strategic Communications Programme focussed on acquiring new students and employer sponsors, including enhancing the impact of selected case studies in the run-up to submission.
• Support the development and implementation of stakeholder engagement/communications for specific high impact projects and initiatives.
• Create presentations on academic excellence for the PVC (Academic) and other senior staff and provide briefings and guidance for presentation opportunities.
• Manage high profile events aimed to raise the profile of key academics and the OU’s academic reputation as a whole, where there are significant communication opportunities (national workshops, international conferences, showcase events).
• Review academic staff web profiles and advise on raising the quality of these profiles for impact on external audiences such as potential students and the media.
• Work with Senior Manager Research Communications to develop the OU’s database of expertise as an effective means of maximising OU comment in the media (both proactively and in response to media enquiries).
• Contribute to development of the OU’s iTunes U and YouTube research portfolio.
• Liaise as appropriate with Digital Engagement, Open Broadcasting Unit and Marketing (e.g. for approval of advertisements).
• Coordinate academic excellence competition entries (e.g. for Times Higher awards)


• Understands and takes account of organisational aims and priorities to plan and set clear goals and deliver immediate and long term goals.

• Takes personal responsibility for effectively managing projects to achieve priorities, ensuring efficient use of resources to meet agreed delivery timescales and quality standards.

• Undertake such other duties as may be required from time-to-time by the Director of Communications, to build the reputation of the University.


• The post holder will be based in the Communications Unit but will also spend significant time working with colleagues across the OU faculties and institutes.

• The post holder will report to the Head of Communications (Managing Editor) (and through him/her to the Director of Communications) but will liaise closely with the Senior Manager, Research Communications, within the Communications Stakeholder Relations team..

• The post holder will work with other individuals, teams and units across the University where required.

So – profile building and celebration of academic achievements seem to be the order of the day, as well as getting OU comment into mainstream media? Thinking about OU content I share, most of it is generally on the basis of what I think is interesting, novel, “important”, quirky, or possibly of interest in one of the communities I believe I communicate into. But I don’t limit myself to sharing info about just OU activities…(The original naming of was inspired by a desire to share info that might be useful in an OU context, facing both outwards (linking to OU projects that were of interest), as well as inwards (bringing ideas from the outside that might contribute internally to the development of the OU mission).)

The job description doesn’t mention the REF, but work also appears to be being commissioned to support that bundle of laughs at a data management level – REF Publications Linked Data:

Key tasks will include:
– The review with others of the existing Research Publication Facility (RPF);
– Design and development of agreed enhancements and additions to the existing system;
– Delivery of an agreed programme of enhancement/development;
– Maintenance and user-support of the live RPF system;
– Direct liaison with users during the REF preparation period, to handle and progress queries and issues etc. as they arise;
– The postholder will also be expected to devise and introduce additional features to the RPF should they be identified as REF Preparations proceed – e.g. improved MI reporting for the REF Coordination Team and the Institutional Research Review Team (IRRT);
– Undertake such other duties as may be required from time-to-time by appointed line/project managers in support of REF preparations and related systems.

The use of linked data to support Research and Scholarship is an exciting field of research development in its own right, and part of the postholder’s role will be to work in association, as directed, with select colleagues in KMi, the PVC’s Office and elsewhere to identify other relevant opportunities for using linked data in support of the Research and Scholarship agenda, where this is considered appropriate and workload allows. The postholder’s primary responsibility however, will be direct support of the OU’s REF submission.

The job ad also mentions that the role “will include in particular the modelling and exposure as linked data of newly identified data not already covered by the current datasets, the constant maintenance and update of existing data. The Project Officer will in particular integrate a team working in collaboration with the Digital Engagement and the Open Media Units [the Open Broadcasting uint, as was…] of the Open University to create linked databased tools and systems related to improving the discoverability of open educational resources”. From which we maybe learn the Digital Engagement Unit and the OMU are sponsoring the OU’s Linked Data effort? As for example further evidenced by this second Linked Data related job ad – Project Officer – Linked Data

– linking and integrating information regarding the outcomes, impact and media appearance of research projects at the Open University;
– creating and making available new sets of data to support the connection between the Open University and external organisations;
– developing applications and tools to support the navigation in, search and reuse of content available at the Open University;
– improving how OU and external linked data is used by the OpenLearn website ( to group relevant content and make recommendations to users;
– connect educational and research content with online services used by researchers and academics at the Open University;
– supporting the use of linked data in research projects;

A good example of what might be involved in that strand of work is suggested by the DiscOU (Discovering Open University Content from Other Online Resources) project:

Back on the jobs front, the Strategic Communications Programme is also appointing a couple of other positions at the moment – an Employer Engagement & Employability Manager “engag[ing] employers with the benefits of sponsoring staff on OU qualifications, and students with the impact an OU qualification can have on their career” and a Campaigns Manager (Social Media) “comfortable in the online and social media environment [who] will develop our reputation for thought leadership in areas of special interest to the University”. The Further Particulars for the Campaigns Manager go on:

Early priorities for the post will be to develop and implement the existing Social Media Content Strategy to respond to the needs of the Strategic Communications Programme (focussed on attracting more students and employers). In doing so the post holder will begin to develop The Open University’s place in public debate and position the University as a thought leader in areas of special concern. To do this, the post-holder will need to engage key academics and senior staff in the potential of social media as a tool to raise the profile for the University and themselves.


• Develop and implement a SCP Social Media Content Strategy for the University based on a focused approach aimed at maximum impact on prospective students, employer sponsors, key opinion formers and decision-makers.
• Develop and maintain knowledge of the OU’s areas of special concern, encourage debate, disseminate opinion and information accordingly to target audiences, liaising with the media relations team as appropriate for high-impact stories.
• Network across faculties, institutes and relevant service units to maximise engagement of relevant expertise and opinion gathering, to help you stimulate public debate, dissemination and impact.
• Contribute to the development and maintenance of the OU’s presence in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to attract and inform target audiences.
• Working with Digital Engagement, contribute to a pan-university approach to social media activity.
• Work with the Senior Manager, Stakeholders and Ambassadors, on the development of our thought leadership event programme harnessing social media to increase our impact with this programme.
• Day-to-day quality control of all student and employer facing content in our primary Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn presences.
• Work closely with the Senior Manager, Research Communications, to expand the reach of our impact case studies for the OU’s Research Excellence Framework submission.
• Support the development and implementation of stakeholder engagement/communications with key influencers in Social Media.
• Create and deliver presentations for staff training on the power of social media to help us strengthen our reputation for excellence and thought leadership, providing briefings and guidance for presentation opportunities.
• Work with academic staff to develop their social media profiles for impact on external audiences such as potential students and the media.
• Work with staff to optimize their text, audio, and video content and social media channels, evaluating existing content. Dependent on their abilities, this may include producing and editing digital content for them.
• Identify and disseminate digital content and social media best practices to the University community.
• Contribute to development of the OU’s iTunes U and YouTube portfolio and amplify the excellent content delivered into these environments.
• Liaise as appropriate with Digital Engagement, Open Media Unit and Marketing.
• Coordinate OU competition and league tables entries and amplify our success across social media and OU owned channels (e.g. for Times Higher awards)

Social media is definitely in-scope as a comms channel, then…?!

PS no time to go in to them here, but I also notice ads for a Digital Campaign Manager, a Digital Marketing Director, and a Research and Analysis Manager, all within the Open University Worldwide Ltd Business Development Unit. Apparently, “”[t]he Open University has ambitious plans to grow the number of students and associated revenues from overseas. As part of the Open University Worldwide (OUW), the Digital Marketing Director will be accountable for the marketing strategy and delivery of the marketing plan targeted at both new and existing B2C overseas markets, the highly influential Research and Analysis Manager role will be accountable for a range of activities from providing market, competitor and regulatory analysis to shape market strategy, through to producing insight and analysis of day to day performance, the Digital Campaign Manager will be responsible for the delivery of the marketing campaigns targeting B2C overseas markets.””

As to the sorts of skills these roles require:

• Exceptional understanding of all areas of online marketing, including SEO, SEM, social media and eCRM, acquisition, retention, display, affiliates & partnerships.
• Extensive experience of web management and analytics including knowledge of content management systems, content change process, knowledge of establishing web analytics and implementing measurement tools.
• Extensive experience of managing digital agencies.
• Excellent record of success delivering ROI via innovative online marketing campaigns.
• Proven analytical skills and the ability to drive insight from consumer and market data.
• Innovative approach and understanding of how to build a brand and create online communities.

So… that’s the business of the academy then?!

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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