This year’s SU elections has seen Aifric Ni Chriodain and Jemma O’Leary, the two candidates running for the new position of communications and marketing officer, publicly clash over the issue of headline sponsorship. Ni Chriodain says her proposal to increase sponsorship could fund “12 months rent, 66 months of electricity bills, 100 academic textbooks or 1,000 hot nutritious meals.” The plan, according to O’Leary, would amount to “selling out” the union. Should the SU be more willing to engage with corporate sponsors? The two candidates went head to head for this week’s issue of Trinity News.
Aifric Ni Chriodain: The expansion of the role of communications officer to include marketing demonstrates the need for funding within the SU. Increased funding could help fund SU services across the board. With more money, the union could help fund student spaces and initiatives such as the Goldsmith sun room and the SU kitchen. The SU could improve its dedicated weeks such as Rainbow Week and Mental Health Week with a better range of events, more impressive than before. The SU could work with Ents to improve their deals and offers with Freshers’ Week, going on to work with the incoming Ents officer in order to arrange dedicated event sponsorship. This will ensure bigger and better acts and improve the quality of Ents overall. With additional revenue, the union will also be able to divert some funding to the Student Hardship Fund which has faced such dire cuts in recent years. The SU will also be able to run a successful campaign to tackle the accommodation crisis. This year the union orchestrated a flyering campaign and directed additional resources towards the Accommodation Advisory Service, successfully sourcing 700 beds – the same number as will be provided in the new Oisín House development. The revenue generated from sponsorship can only provide a bigger, better, more useful SU for all.
Jemma O’Leary: The SU is a highly profitable organisation, between its Leap card sales and its financial reserve, amounting to about €500,000. Despite cuts to its budget of 10% over the last two years, this is not an organisation that is struggling for cash.
Do we really need to clog our already under-performing communications channels with a message from our sponsors? “KPMG presents: free condoms” belongs to the same ideology that creates the identity initiative debacle and cuts to “unprofitable” student services.
That is not to say that the union should not seek further sponsorship opportunities to help its services perform to the required level. Far from it – no one can afford to look a cash-cow in the mouth. But do we really need to clog our already under-performing communications channels with a message from our sponsors? Without wanting to sound facetious, “KPMG presents: free condoms” belongs to the same ideology that creates the identity initiative debacle and cuts to “unprofitable” student services.
The overwhelming majority of students in Trinity have little to no contact with their students’ union. Sabbatical officers are rarely seen outside of House 6, and most students based off the College Green campus would struggle to name even one of them. Developing the relationship between the union and its members should be the SU’s foremost priority – not helping business develop a relationship with students. Revenue is important, but not important enough right now.
It is a red herring to argue that student societies do just fine with corporate input. The relationship between societies and their members is completely different to that between the SU and its members. Societies are smaller-scale organisations that have numerous points of weekly contact with their members. At present, the SU can only dream of that kind of interaction and engagement. There is one other important distinction between the SU and societies – the SU claims to be a representative body of all students, whereas societies do not. Societies can decide on their own terms what sponsorship suits them. The SU is not a club that you have a choice to opt in or out of.
For the SU to convince external businesses that it has strong member engagement at present would be the ultimate act of marketing, when the truth is that it makes very little effort. That’s not for me.
Aifric Ni Chriodain: I understand the concerns of a candidate seeking better engagement with students. A better funded SU is a better engaged union, a union better able to fund services to reach more students. I have the skills and experience to carry out these policies, but my experience is not limited. I am a candidate concerned with engaging students. I have run the social media and campaign channels for the Phil, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, YO! Sushi, ShoutOut, PrHomo and Edinburgh Fringe, many of these organisations targeting students. I understand Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms and the value of photo or video content, and I have the technical skills to produce such content. I will use these skills to better present the union and to engage students. Again, the expansion of the role of communications officer to include marketing demonstrates the need for funding within the SU. If you want to be facetious, the SU actually already receives condom sponsorship each year. It’s not from KPMG – it’s from Durex and Think Contraception. Given that young people between the ages of 20 and 29 comprise half of Irish STI cases, I personally don’t mind “selling out” to Durex if it means keeping the welfare office stocked with condoms for a year.
Given that young people between the ages of 20 and 29 comprise half of Irish STI cases, I personally don’t mind “selling out” to Durex if it means keeping the welfare office stocked with condoms for a year.
I also don’t object to putting a logo on a freshers’ pack if that pack holds what the average fresher needs – washing powder, pasta, noodles, condoms, sweets, and the odd hangover cure. That counts as sponsorship, and it has existed within the SU for years. The free Domino’s and the Ents card exist solely because of sponsorship, but the SU has not “sold out” or given itself to corporate powers in exchange for these rewards. Further sponsorship can only improve the quality of guests and better develop the debate around students’ issues and students’ voices. I understand from my work with societies that students can expect a huge financial return for very little effort or compromise of ethos – for example, the +€10,000 I secured for the Phil in return for little more than logos on posters. I designed and presented a 30-page sponsorship proposal for every major financial company in Dublin until we found the organisation which best fit our ethos while offering us the best return. I will do the same, and more, for the SU and its 17,000 members.
I plan to improve the SU’s current communications channels. The Communications aspect of the role remains its primary function, and I have the experience to serve that role. The best way to engage students with the union is to improve the union. The best way to improve the union is to improve the services offered, but that requires cash. I have the experience of negotiating marketing contracts with the various candidates. We can and we shall improve student engagement without compromising the great work done by the union. Yet, it falls to the new communications and marketing officer to bring in revenue for the SU which can be appropriately spent on the services where it is needed most. Seeking sponsorship does not represent “selling out”. It is a tactic which has long been utilised by the SU and which the SU seeks to use further given the recent shift towards a communications and marketing role. Sponsorship is vital for the improvement of student services. This will improve student engagement but it need not compromise the ethos of the union.
Photo: Kevin O’Rourke