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Folks may have seen the new-look website, new Prospectus, and maybe the new stands and literature used at careers fairs. This stuff is just the beginning of an integrated student recruitment campaign for 2009, which will eventually include promotional activities in the summer and autumn, and applicant communication leading up to enrolment. Significant increases in enquiry levels suggest our instincts and research have been right and that we’re developing work that expresses the desirable reality of Edge Hill in a compelling way.

We’ll be blogging more about the ethos of the campaign on an internal-only site – as revealing the dark secrets and inner workings could blast the minds of mere mortals, and we have to be mindful of health and safety… but I’ll just say that our approach to branding is a direction and style rather than a set of templates or a cheesy slogan. The work will evolve over the coming months, spawning fresh and interesting manifestations.

This could of course mean retirement for Jez, the animated character who has appeared in our TV commercials for the past three years. Hopefully axing the little chap won’t be too unpopular; it’s not as if we’re sacking the ducks…

Klown Grotesk

I’ve never been to standup comedy at the Rose before, despite the great value (a fiver for several acts.) It was quite an experience. Craig Deeley, Chris Ramsey, and compere Elliot J Huntley offered varying levels of amusement and/or offensiveness. I felt I had my fivers-worth about halfway through Mr Deeley’s act, partly from the pleasure of hearing a West Brom accent. But the main reason I went was curiosity to see what Chris Lynam would get up to in the (to my mind) tame environment of the Rose. I first saw Mr Lynam, over 20 years ago when I worked at the Zap Club, a venue in Brighton. There was some sort of comedy competition on an outdoor stage, which I think Chris won… I remember him wrestling the dignatory who announced the prize to the ground in an absurdly uncalled-for snog… and at some point being lured down from a lamp-post by the police… I thought then he looked and performed like Jerry Lewis half-transformed into a werewolf – and it occurred to me last week that he could play the Joker without needing makeup…

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His Rose show was… many things, and certainly hard to ignore. Grotesque, confrontational, scary clowning, like some shaman channeling the Trickster archetype into the standup format… funny, but also appalling and compelling like a performance-art carcrash. His banjo-accompanied songs were disturbing on an almost cellular level, and the finale was a combination of nudity and pyrotechnics I had hoped never to witness… to sum up, I liked it a lot.

Four American students who sat in the front row should have had equal billing with the acts, as three out of four performers zeroed in on them relentlessly – Chelsea should get extra credit for her piano playing alone.

‘Won’t you please, please help me’

‘Help’ is a widely-offered commodity these days – there’s usually a little button offering ‘Help’ on the screen of your device of choice; companies offer help lines and help desks. Some kind of ‘help’ function has become a must-have accessory for many organisations, with ‘Customer Care’ being a box everyone needs to tick. But the quality of the aid and assistance actually offered varies considerably…

Yesterday I spent some time working on the Student Information Centre Helpdesk at Edge Hill, as part of a ‘Back to the Floor’ day organised by HR. It was the busiest and least caffeinated I’ve been for a long time… the volume and diversity of enquiries kept me on the go without let up for the whole period. I was impressed and surprised by a number of things:
– the complexity and scale of information that needs to be immediately available from the desk
– the huge range of services deployed to support students
– the immediate willingness of staff around the University to drop what they’re doing to help sort out a student’s problem
– the Kafka-like world of student finance, and the effort involved by Universities and the students themselves in making it work.

The Student Information Officer did a great job of mentoring me whilst (inevitably) responding to a lot of the questions after I had blanched in fear, dropped the papers on the floor, proffered the wrong form and so on. But I now know what an EMC form is and the deadline for a Module Change Request.

At Edge Hill, at least, the ‘Help’ on offer is real and (now that I’ve left the proper people to get on with it) professionally delivered.

Capital of Culture – NOW I get it…

Whilst monitoring mentions of Edge Hill University in the blogosphere, this piece arrived on my desktop – a warts-and-all account of working on a low-budget independent film in Liverpool, written by world traveler John Parker. For John, a mature guy working as a runner on a film (which sounds simultaneously grueling and rewarding, ‘out of bed at ungodly hours, and stand in a muddy scrap yard taking orders and making tea’) is part of his personal reinvention, paralleling that of the city…

Outsiders have to be able to look past the shining new towers, the gleaming shopping malls, the resplendent – almost gum free – pavements and see what beats underneath. Every city in the world has glittering temples dedicated to the God of shopping. They are only the outward symbols of new life. Birmingham, Newcastle and Bristol also have fine industrial heritages, first class art galleries, outstanding theatres and orchestra’s. So what is it that makes Liverpool different?… It can only be the people.

And the EHU connection? Film Production students were working on the film too, getting their hands dirty, living on nerves for a while, angling their way into the industry…

John’s post is raw, honest and poetic. And after all the big launches and corporate presentations its the first time I’ve actually felt what Capital of Culture might mean, how ‘even in the old badlands, lying in the shadow of the bright World Heritage lights, there are seeds of optimism.’

Silence of THE Universities

When I wrote about the relaunched Times Higher last week, I never imagined we’d be on the cover of the next issue, albeit in butterfly form:

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Images like this always remind me of ‘the Silence of the Lambs’, not because of Hannibal Lecter’s considerable academic achievements (he could have written an interesting ‘Don’s Diary’ for the THES two or three relaunches ago), but because of the iconic image from the movie poster:

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Leaving aside the inherent creepiness of static lepidoptera, it is interesting that Edge Hill forms part of a subset of institutions chosen to represent the diversity of universities.

Back to the publication itself, barely emerged from its own chrysalis, I’m still not sure what to call it when referring to it out loud. Saying ‘The Times Higher Education Supplement’ always sounded somewhat portentous, like referring to ‘The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Seven’. ‘The Higher’ was sayable, as was ‘the THES’ (rhymes with Tess) or ‘the tee aitch ee ess’. Somehow I can’t imagine asking in the office if anyone’s see the ‘tee aitch ee’, and if I said ‘the THE’ there would be the danger that Chris would hand me a CD.

Skaters seen from Lancs Hall

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This excellent picture is part of the Geograph website, which collects images from grid squares across the UK. It and its neighbours can be found here – the caption reads ‘Edge Hill College pond skaters -Taken from hall of residence, Lancashire Hall, now demolished, in the severe winter of 1962/3’ and it was submitted by a ‘Chris Coleman’ – obviously taking an interest in Edge Hill students at a very early age!

Guardian’s Razor’s edge

Guardian blog posts by Dr Peter Wright, Edge Hill University’s Reader in Speculative Fictions, show up fairly regularly in my Google Reader. (The latest one concerns a movie in the new, critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica series, so I daren’t read it as I’ll want to watch it some day.)

I find Guardian blogs interesting – a sort of hybrid, presenting author’s personal opinions (just like regular, self-published blogs) but with the kudos of editorial acceptance by a trusted media brand. Interesting also how many-tentacled ‘newspapers’ are, beyond the physical paper – and how these evolving channels provide academics with new outlets for public dissemination.

I happen to know that Peter has submitted another one that dares to criticise a much loved National Treasure. If the Guardian dares to publish it, I predict not a riot but comments aplenty, followed by deportation or imprisonment in the Tower.

Book Club blues

Just had a nice letter from some VIth-formers at a College in the region. They have formed a book club and aim to ‘improve language skills, analytical, critical and debating skills’ by reading books such as ‘Not Without My Sisters’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’. They’re asking for sponsorship to the tune of £70, in return for which we’d get some visibility at the College and even the opportunity to ‘join in a Book Club meeting!’

It’s great to hear of people actually wanting to read (in a week when I heard the sad tale of a student missing a seminar as they hadn’t managed to read two books (!) in a week (!!) by those impenetrable heavyweights, Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler.) £70 isn’t a great deal of money, but as a university is a charity running on earmarked public funds such things aren’t really possible. Technically it might be illegal (perhaps not on an Enron scale…) and vast numbers of similar requests would be hard to handle.

But it just seems sad to let it go. I may bung them a derisory amount myself. Other than that, any ideas?

As I was saying in my other blog…

I’ve noticed that this blog has a link from the new Edge Hill staff portal, which is flattering. I can’t help thinking that many other blogs deserve attention – CLTR Nexus, Cakes, the cryptically-named Web Services… but if people are coming my way, welcome!

This is my personal/work blog, which I see as a bit like conference presentations I give in an individual capacity, i.e. it’s my own ideas rather than a serious overview of the work of the department. As this is my own linguistic turf it’s unashamedly idiosyncratic – if I want to write about plastic boxes, or trail off every sentence with ellipses, I will… and for anything really random, there’s my non-marketing personal blog.

People sometimes ask, ‘Why call it Mister Roy?’ Well… it’s my name… but apart from that, one of my fellow Directors initiated it as a nickname a few years ago, probably based on the human accomplice of Basil Brush from the 1970s… The same Director remains oddly amused that I once attended a meeting in her office wearing half of a pantomime horse costume.)

Original Mister Roy

As a more serious marketing discussion may be useful sometimes, we’ve launched an internal Corporate Marketing blog. We’re also using blogging to communicate with, rather than about, our markets: Spark is us talking to them; the various Hi blogs are them talking to each other. A news blog is under consideration, but we need to be sure that we’re not just re-presenting press releases as blog posts: if we can find the right voice with which to talk about news and events in this medium, then yet another blog may appear.

All we need now is a sort of meta-blog to keep track of them all…

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Wearing my special blogging costume