A day in the life: Communications chief

Find out why Dr Jo Heaton-Marriott is never bored

How long have you been in your job?

I’ve been at Teesside University for 14 months.

What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

The ever-changing nature of it and the need to think on my feet. Every day there are new successes that deserve a spotlight, from student achievements to research breakthroughs. Each news bulletin, parliamentary update or tweet might yield a new opportunity for the university. I am on constant alert and I thrive on it.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work?

Most days I walk into the office listening to a podcast or Radio 4, having already whizzed through social media feeds over a coffee, so I tend to feel like I’m up to speed as I arrive on campus. The first thing I do is check in with whoever is best placed to discuss those early morning developments, so more often than not the day starts with an informal catch-up with my policy team, press office or the vice-chancellor.

Who are the key people you talk to every day?

The VC and my PA Lucy, who is indispensable.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I’ve always enjoyed the fact that I am truly working for the benefit of the university, not a department, or a discipline… and that means I can be forthright, honest and stubborn in getting the right thing done.

And the worst?

That feeling that the next phone call might be a crisis.

I’d like to say it was a carefully crafted career plan, but it truly was just a sequence of lovely coincidences

Your number one most vital tool?

It has to be my mobile. I can’t stand being disconnected and carry a massive battery pack with me so that I am never out of power.

How did you get into your job?

I’d like to say it was a carefully crafted career plan, but it truly was just a sequence of lovely coincidences.

I have a PhD in microbiology, and found that I enjoyed the ‘communication’ of science much more than the ‘doing’ of science. Whilst writing up my PhD, I won an award for some schools outreach I’d delivered. That led to plenty of media engagement and I was able to demonstrate how outreach/engagement could be really good for a university’s profile, just as the sector became really interested in public engagement and started talking about research impact.

That then became my job and over several years at that institution I built a team to support public engagement and we launched a science festival, which drew me into wider PR/comms. My role here at Teesside combines corporate communications, social responsibility, policy and events, so is a perfect fit.

What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for the role?

I’m calm in a crisis and I care deeply about doing the right thing, so I place huge importance on ensuring that the university upholds its mission and values and operates with integrity.

Which five words sum up your typical day?

Rewarding; creative; fast-paced; diverse; vital.

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?


Dr Jo Heaton-Marriott is director of corporate communications and public relations at Teesside University

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