Dr Nicky Garsten is a PR and Comms Senior Lecturer at the University of Greenwich, with over fifteen years of experience working in communications. As the Senior Lecturer at the university, Nicky directs the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Communications degree. In this spotlight, Nicky chats to us about why it’s important to her to help guide the next PR generation with contemporary skills, why fake news has brought up questions about of the regulation of online communications, and why she’s excited about co-editing the new book ‘Third Sector PR’.
Can you introduce yourself and speak a little about your professional background? I began working life campaigning for hard-of-hearing people at the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss). I knew I wanted to specialise in media relations, so I went on to train as a journalist with Reed Business Publishing, working on Doctor and Hospital Doctor. The journalistic perspective I attained was invaluable when I went on to run the Press Office at the Royal National Institute for Blind People.
In my 30s I took my managerial experience with me and moved into PR consultancy (JSPR and then MS&L). I directed international, and national, healthcare communications campaigns – including award-winning non-for-profit initiatives. At MS&L, I was given the fabulous opportunity of a one-month secondment in Delhi, with Genesis PR (now GenesisBM).
What do you most like about being a PR and Communications Programme Director, and what are the challenges? As a Programme Director at the University of Greenwich I work closely with the PR industry. Building up of a sense of a community amongst our students, alumni and PR practitioners is important.
We are very lucky that dozens of senior practitioners and alumni deliver guest lectures every year. This helps our students nurture their professional networks. We work with practitioners to create opportunities for our students. For instance, we run a research note competition with Laura Apps at Bell Pottinger Engage that comes with the top prize of a paid internship. Our third years have had workshops hosted at Weber Shandwick, and bespoke lectures with the consultancy’s CEO, Colin Byrne. They’ve also had video CV training from the film experts at Bell Pottinger Engage, Partner, Victoria Naylor-Leyland and David Pardoe.
These external perspectives also inform the development of the syllabus. Changes have included the introduction of marketing, events management and language options; a communications audit that students conduct with ‘real’ clients and more digital content, including video CVs and podcasting.
I enjoy getting to know every student on the degree programme as they develop their knowledge, skills and professional networks. From my perspective, students are under much more financial pressure than they used to be.
As a Senior Lecturer at the University of Greenwich, you direct the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Communications. What are your hopes for the new generation of PRs? It’s great to help guide and equip the next PR generation with contemporary skills, and curious outlooks, to work in areas that they find rewarding.
The degree at the University of Greenwich is fully recognised by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and is a partner of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA). Why is this important for students looking to start a career in PR? Professional partnerships are important to students and potential employers. The CIPR’s recognition is based on having incorporated a specific body of knowledge into the degree. Both the CIPR and PRCA provide our students with networking opportunities and learning opportunities.
You have over 15 years of experience of working in communications. What have been the best campaigns you have worked on and why? For me, the best campaigns are effective, creative, shift attitudes and behaviours, and touch people’s lives. When at the Royal National Institute for Blind People we successfully campaigned, as part of a consortium, to increase disability benefits for people who were visually impaired.
I have also found public health campaigning is fascinating. At MS&L, I worked with SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) and WHO, on the launch of a global programme to eliminate the disabling and disfiguring tropical disease, Lymphatic Filariasis (more commonly known as Elephantiasis) by 2020.
There were many other rewarding campaigns too. Working with Juliet Earp at the Health Education Authority we ran an award-winning campaign that increased children’s understanding of food hygiene.
What trends do you think we will see this year in relation to the PR industry? There are many different trends relating to our understanding of influence. For instance, through neuroscience and psychology we are increasing our understanding of the roles that emotions play in persuasion and wider decision making.
Big data, and the greater understanding of social network analysis, allows us to map how influence ebbs and flows within networks. At the University of Greenwich, we have the largest concentration of business network analysts in Europe in our Centre for Business Network Analysis.
Given the growing influence of fake news, there are increasingly important questions about of the regulation online communications. It is a major challenge especially since messages can be so tightly targeted.
You are currently working on co-editing a book on Third Sector PR which is due to be published by Routledge in 2018. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what they can expect from the book? Yes, my co-editor, Professor Ian Bruce and I have a diverse and experienced group of contributing authors who are providing professional perspectives on strategic communications in the Not-for-Profit sector. The book covers four areas. Firstly, there is the strategic context, that includes corporate governance and evolving powerful brands. Then there are a wider set of communications opportunities and challenges including employee engagement, digital communications and the growing trend for corporate and NGO partnerships. The breadth of the sector is also examined with specialist input on social enterprises, trade unions and housing associations.
Finally, the global context is examined, with a focus on INGO communications planning and country-specific perspectives in different continents.
What has been your career highlight? The most pivotal moment in my career was attaining a multi-disciplinary PhD in Singaporean Studies, at SOAS, University of London. It opened up a new phase in my life – an academic one. Academic life is immensely stimulating because you never stop learning about your own discipline, and a host of new ones, as well as the art of teaching and the rigour of research.
What’s next for you? Will you be working on any exciting projects in the near future? 2018 will see some exciting new books from Routledge. In addition our Third Sector PR book, I’m going to be working on The Business of Pitching: A PR Perspective with consultancy, stalwart, Kevin Read (who’s also my husband!)
Currently, there isn’t a book looking at the theory and practice of pitching in the PR industry. The book draws on the commercial expertise of Kevin Read, and a multi-disciplinary body of literature including communications, marketing, neuroscience, psychology, management and cultural theory.