Kenon Man is a senior higher education marketer and has worked in HE for over nine years. He is currently Deputy Director of Marketing at the University of Nottingham.
He won the Council of Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe inaugural Emerging Marketing and Communications Professional Award in 2016, and since then he has won numerous awards for content, campaigns, and digital marketing.
He is an active member of the higher education sector and is always keen to discuss and share best practices in digital marketing and content. He has spoken at various conferences. He is vice-chair of the CIM Higher and Further Education interest group and a member of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education District Cabinet.
Kenon is committed to equality and diversity. He recognised the lack of diversity within the sector and was co-chair of the CASE Europe Multi-Cultural network, which provided a safe space for BME staff to feel that they belong and to increase BME staff’s visibility within the HE sector.
Previously, Kenon has worked in the arts in various roles from performance to marketing, and he has continued his interest in the arts by performing in orchestras. His personal highlight has been performing with the Berlin Philharmonic in Berlin with Sir Simon Rattle.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
Welsh-Valleys, Chinese, takeaway family.
How did you get into PR/communications?
I always thought communications and PR were all about sales, and the idea of working in a ‘Fleet-street, bolshy’ dominated environment was not for me. But I accidentally found myself in a communications role by being at the right place, at the right time.
Social networks were starting to grow in popularity, and organisations were starting to use social media as a communications channel. So I armed myself with knowledge and experience of using Faceparty and MySpace platforms (i.e. I had a customised profile) and landed my first job managing social media channels, creating content to enhance the brand, and developing the customer experience through communications.
What do you love about your job?
I enjoy working in higher education because it is about helping and supporting people to make an informed choice about their life through authentic and creative content.
Higher Education today is a unique beast where the worlds of civic responsibility and commercial practices collide. It is my responsibility to ensure balance through communications and campaigns without undermining the value of education – it is always about the student.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of the journey that I have been through in the last three years. In 2018, I was given the opportunity to head up a team, and I am not going to lie, it was a challenging transition.
I was challenged personally and professionally, but with the support and guidance from some fantastic mentors, I steadily worked through the challenges to grow and develop the team. As a result, the team is now an award-winning team, scooping up over 10 awards in the last two years, and I’m proud to have been on that journey with everyone.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Not everyone will understand or accept your energy, style or vision, making you feel alone and frustrated.
I remember I was confronted with a tidal wave of negativity, and I got absorbed into their energy which created a cycle of self-doubt. But, I had a lightbulb moment, and I realised that sometimes it’s not me, it’s them. I had to trust myself, my instinct, and the support around me that I was taking the right approach.
Sometimes you have to stand your ground, listen and stay true to who you are and your vision.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
I enjoy Wonkhe, which is a blog and opinion site filled with articles relating to higher education. They need to encourage a more diverse set of contributors, but I think that says more about the sector than the Wonkhe group, however, the articles help me realise government policy and the direction of travel for universities.
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
I think you have to genuinely be interested, curious and inspired by the world around you. I believe that everything you do is connected, and no encounter is wasted. So allow yourself to be fascinated by stories from anyone and anywhere, as they might provide unexpected opportunities.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I am getting into WeChat. This is mainly because my family is scattered across the world, and WeChat has helped us stay connected during the pandemic. It’s also fun to see my parents learning how to use emojis and stickers, as well as leaving random recipe ideas as voice messages at 3am because they forgot that there’s a time difference between us all.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
I have finally started listening to Steve Barlett’s Diary of a CEO. The episodes provide a fascinating insight into the minds and backgrounds of successful people such as Mary Portas, Joe Wicks, Reggie Yates. I love that the episodes are filled with honest stories but without being regretful, and you can tell that Steve Barlett is absorbing every word from his guests and then reflecting and working through his thought processes.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
He is not quite a journalist, but he is somewhat a controversial character in the marketing world. Mark Ritson writes for various marketing related blogs and publications. I like his no-nonsense attitude to marketing and branding. It is easy to get swept up in the next new communication trend or acronym, but Mark calls out any rubbish. Of course, you have to see past his personal brand i.e., the glasses, suit, and swearing, but he does speak the truth.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I recently heard on a podcast ‘nothing blooms all year round’. I’m pretty driven and quietly ambitious, so I always say yes to any opportunities that push me out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, this means I don’t usually give myself enough time and space to enjoy the quiet time. However, I am learning to feel and say that it is ok to take some time out, reflect and reset yourself – it is better to bloom like a rare flower than a weed.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2021 so far?
Other than the UK government’s awful handling of Covid, my PR fail so far has been Roland-Garros‘s reaction to Naomi Osaka’s stance on her personal mental health. Their public statement and heavy handling of the situation clearly indicate that they prioritised their sponsors and investors rather than showing a duty of care.
A PR yay has been Everyone’s Invited campaign, led by Soma Sarah, which has shone a light on rape culture at schools and universities. The concept is simple – providing space for survivors to share their stories anonymously. The campaign has made a significant impact within the education sector, with Ofsted publishing an action plan and the Department of education launching a helpline with NSPCC.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
I’m a great believer in making small gains. Yes, there are times when, as a community, we have to call things out and make some noise, but I feel that each of us need to start celebrating BME excellence daily. We need to use our personal channels and networks to unapologetically celebrate our achievements and the success of others. If people start to feel weird about BME excellence, then it’s their problem – it’s time for us to own it.
Kenon was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. He will be mentored by Claire Johnson-Tusinska, Director of Ethicon Communications & Public Affairs, EMEA at Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices.