Telum Talks To... Piers Matthews, Director of Marketing and Communications, Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi

Telum Talks To... Piers Matthews, Director of Marketing and Communications, Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi

Piers Matthews shares with Telum the comms challenges and opportunities he faced during COVID, the aspects he focuses on in doing education comms and his word of advice for comms starters keen to join the education sector.

You joined Dulwich College in the midst of COVID, what challenges and opportunities have you encountered managing comms for an international school in Shanghai?
I am a big believer in the power of personal relationships, especially in a school setting where the personal investment of families in the school is so deep. Parents are eager to engage with the College, to learn more about their child’s education, and to support the school wherever they can. The biggest challenge during this time has been having to cancel, postpone or reduce in-person events and meetings. Without face-to-face communications to build relationships we need to rely much more on clear, concise and relevant written communication, that still feels personal and caring. We don’t want official school communications to be cold and impersonal. Of course, this presents new opportunities, as we have explored new channels of communications, and introduced improved platforms that help our community members receive information in a convenient and timely manner.

When compared to doing comms in other industries, what is something unique to the education sector?
We say that content is king. In education, this is especially true. I spend a lot of time working with stakeholders within the school to develop a communication plan that shares deep insights into what we do, why we do it, and how that is backed up by evidence and research. This is not only important in attracting new parents, but also in retaining existing parents and helping them feel reassured that they made the right choice. With limited opportunities to interact in person due to COVID, sharing this content through our digital channels is more important than it has ever been.

I guess in schools, as in many industries, the communications team cannot control all areas of communications. Parents have touchpoints and interactions with many different people throughout the school year, and it is impossible to quality control every single interaction. This makes it critical to establish communications guidelines and policies, hold internal training sessions, model best practices and establish a culture of high-quality communication.

Having worked in different provinces in Mainland China, how do regional differences impact your formulation of marcomms strategies?
Shanghai is a hyper-competitive market, with many international schools. The choices for parents are vast and so identifying and communicating unique selling points is even more important than in some smaller cities where choices are limited. In cities where schools have one or two key competitors, I find there is a more introspective marcomms strategy, focusing on sharing the daily life of the school. In Shanghai, there is a lot of noise, so I feel it is important to have a clear voice, a clearly defined understanding of what makes you special, and discipline in finding the right channels to share your messages.

You have been in the education sector for the most part of your career, what advice would you give young people who aspire to pursue a similar path?
I didn’t set out to pursue a career in the education field. It happened through a series of coincidences. But I feel incredibly lucky to work in education, because it is a very rewarding sector to work in. Beyond standard marketing strategy and communications work, I get to interact with students, run school events and play a large role in the daily life of the school. Having said that, I feel lucky that I started my career in Australia with exposure to a variety of sectors and roles before joining education. This has given me a different perspective to some who have been in education their entire career and see everything through a school lens.

I would recommend someone who is thinking of pursuing a career in marketing and communications in education to start elsewhere first. Build a broad foundation of marketing and communications strategies, and then if the opportunity arises, apply those to education. The concepts are generally the same and can be applied to the unique setting of a school. Again, working in a school is an incredibly rewarding experience. We are in the business of shaping the lives of young people to make a positive difference in the world. Be prepared to jump into the classroom, support teachers, come up with fun ideas, and wear many different hats. 

Wrapping up 2021, what have you learnt in the past year and what comms trends do you look forward to in 2022?
Over the past year I have learned the value of being flexible and ready to adapt to any situation very quickly. Many of our plans have been changed at the last minute due to COVID regulations beyond our control. While frustrating, I know that every change we make is required to put the safety of our community first. In 2022, I look forward to seeing the world transition into a post-COVID state, where hopefully face-to-face communication can resume. I am also interested in the role that new innovations, like social CRM, can play in making our marketing and communications more effective.

More stories

Telum Media


Get in touch to hear more

Request demo

Telum Media


Regular email alerts featuring the latest news and moves from the media industry across Asia Pacific Enjoy exclusive daily interviews with senior journalists and PRs as well as in-house editorial and features from the Telum team

Subscribe for alerts