Please tell me about your role and remit at the university
My role is to promote and market Durham’s wider student experience, everything outside of student’s studies. All the fun stuff, I like to call it. It is not solely the academic work, it is the projects and the extracurricular activities that our students can and do get involved in that adds to their all-round university experience. The wider student experience at Durham delivers mainly through our colleges, sports, theatre, music and volunteering. The Durham Inspired Award, Durham Leadership Programme, are other ways in which students can get involved in those things. I work with the colleges, the departments, sports, theatre, music and volunteering, so I bring together a lot of the activities that they offer and the opportunities that students take. Then, we use that as a sort of recruitment tool. We market that out to prospective students to say, as well as studying for a high-quality degree in a reputable university such as Durham, you also have the opportunity to develop many other skills outside of lectures. It is a good way of getting people involved.
How did you come to work in higher education? Please tell me about your career background
I began my career in advertising and I worked in advertising agencies in Newcastle and in Manchester for about 13 years, which included Account Management. Then I wanted to move client side, so I took a role with a mail-order fashion retailer in Newcastle, which I did for a few years and then I saw the job advertised at Durham. When I first came to Durham, I was a Cultural Marketing Officer and it was an interesting role where I worked with the university attractions. Durham has an Oriental Museum, Palace Green Library and Gallery, and the Botanic Garden, and it’s very own recently refurbished theatre, The Assembly Rooms. The University wanted to market all these assets better to the staff, students and more widely to the local community. I was hired to do that, which was a lovely role. After a few years, that evolved and things changed and I moved more into the Marketing Team working specifically on student experience. We had done as much as we could do with the attractions, so then we focused on what are students are doing outside of their studies and how we can use that to bring students to the university.
Would you say your job is rewarding/meaningful?
It is a rewarding job. I think because much of what we do is directly with students. I get to work with students who are involved in sports teams. Durham has a fantastic reputation for sport, and we are the top sports team university in the country and have been since 2013. Sport is massive here. We have 27 different theatre companies; there are about 80 different bands, choirs, orchestras and ensembles. We also run 80 different volunteering projects. All of these things are student-run and student-led. I work with them to help promote what they do, including how they attract students to get involved in the programmes and what they do for the local community. We also look into how they capitalise on that more widely, helping them learn and develop new skills. That is important in itself. They put something on, and they get a good audience, some good coverage. It is really rewarding.
Please could you tell me about any notable opportunities you have had working in Higher Education?
I’m very lucky working for Durham because there’s so much going on here, there are so many opportunities to get involved in all kinds of things. The students really benefit, but I think the staff get to benefit a lot as well. There are always sports fixtures to go and see, there are always theatre productions going on that you can go get involved in, concerts, musical performances, volunteering projects, all of that kind of thing. We also get many training opportunities because we need to be up to speed with what is happening in the sector, and what is happening in the wider youth market as well.
Mental health, a very topical issue, Durham’s way ahead on that, so we’ve all had the access to mental health first aid training and things like that, which are really helpful. Sexual disclosure too, so that any of the issues that may come up, you are better equipped to deal with. I have also done additional training courses, I did an ILM Leadership and Management endorsed course through the university. There are many opportunities, so there is always something going on, whether it is socially or professionally, that you can get involved in. It’s a really interesting, vibrant place to be.
How do you think working in Higher Education compares to working in a commercial environment?
It’s been 12 years since I moved away from working in advertising agencies and commercial businesses to working at a university, and things have changed a lot. Initially, I found the pace of life a lot slower in a university. Deadlines were not as tight, but I think that has definitely changed over the last 12 years. The university has become, generally, more business-like in that way. I don’t know whether it is just Durham or universities across the board. We’re a historic institution but 12 years on, it’s more business-like, faster-paced environment. Social media, the internet, you know, in the last ten years has just completely changed the face of how we communicate with our audience. Our audiences are 16, 17 year old upwards and they are online, we’ve got to keep up with them.
We have had to step up. When I first started at Durham, we printed prospectuses and they all went posted out. Now, we lead the way in that the prospectuses we offer can be personalised and ordered online, then downloaded or printed off at home; it is managed digitally and online. It has really changed as the market has changed. One thing that I would say, is that universities are more of a hierarchy. When I was working in an agency and something needed doing, it could be done quickly. Working in a university, it has to go through different levels of approval or committees sometimes, so it can slow stuff down.
Please tell me about your experience of the facilities on campus for university life/wellbeing.
I would say it is a really interesting place to work. It is a vibrant campus, always something happening, whether it is a social event or for furthering your career. Durham has an international Business School here, there are lectures and talks that you can go to. It’s really good. We have sports facilities that we can use and have access to. We have staff volunteering programmes and staff wellbeing programmes. It is a great environment to be in, you are with people who are happy, healthy, thinking in the right lines and looking after themselves as well.
What has been your career highlight whilst working in Higher Education and why?
I think one of the things that has been a highlight is the fact that we set up a Celebrate Science Festival. It is a free festival aimed at primary school children, it happens over three days and is run by volunteers from across the university. Volunteers are all from different departments, who put on events, activities and experiments. The first year it launched, it was planned as a one-off, and it’s now been running for ten years. It has gone from strength to strength and I think it’s things like that, where you set something up, it’s got a bit of longevity, it grows, develops and improves. I think that’s really satisfying.
Another thing would be the online prospectus. Not a lot of universities are doing that yet, so we are trying to keep ahead of the game. It is good environmentally and students can get just the information they need on the courses they want without having to waste paper and wait for the post. I think that’s been a big development, and it’s been good to be a part of it.
What are your tips or advice for those considering a career in marketing at a university?
I would definitely say to people, if you have marketing experience in any field, the basics are transferable. You have different markets; we have prospective undergraduate students who have never thought about going to university, right through to postgraduates who are very experienced scholars, looking for a specific course with specific academics to work with. Once you have a handle on your audience, I think it is an interesting way to find out the better channels to work through to reach that audience. Working in higher education is good in terms of holidays and pensions; it is a career move with lots of opportunities within that. Marketing covers a bit of everything; alumni relations, international office, student recruitment, working with the local community. There are many different areas that you can work across and it is very varied. I would definitely say it is worth having a look at.
This interview was conducted before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Working arrangements on university campuses may have changed due to social distancing measures.