The Allen key effect – Swedish style

The Allen key effect – Swedish style

By Robert Minton-Taylor, Senior Lecturer, Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University


Ikea main In 2014, public relations (PR) lecturers at Leeds Business School conducted a survey on LinkedIn to find out what skills employers wanted from graduates. 400 PR practitioners from as far afield as New Zealand and the USA were asked to cite the top 10 skills they would expect to see in a graduate who wants a career in PR.

We received over 350 responses to the post. The findings were put to senior executives of the Top 20 UK PR agencies who were members of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), reputed to be the world’s largest PR professional body.

Aptitudes that employers saw as important included oral and written communication, listening, engagement, interpersonal, time management, organisational skills, strategic thinking and planning skills.

But how do you engage postgraduates, many of whom do not have English as a mother tongue, who have rarely worked in any kind of professional capacity in their field of study and who have little or no experience of working in a business environment?

Engaging students

The solution lay in partnering with a company that shared the same vision and values of Leeds Business School, who had strong ethical values both in the way they did business and their willingness to work with students from many cultures, with little or no experience in the business world. We also wanted to work with an organisation which would respect students as “co-workers” rather than treat them as students.

"The solution lay in partnering with a company that shared the same vision and values of Leeds Business School."

On their part students told us that they wanted to work with a globally respected organisation (which would ‘look good’ on their CVs) and which offered the opportunity to develop and enhance the skills they needed to develop a good narrative at interview and get a good job.

The answer lay on our doorstep. IKEA is the world’s largest furniture and furnishings firm and a charitable foundation. For many IKEA has democratised our living spaces. The company has a flair for innovative design. IKEA embodies the image of all things Swedish, even down to giving its products Swedish names.

I have worked with Scandinavians since the mid-1980s when I was as a PR consultant in the maritime and logistics sector. In 2011, I approached the chief executive of the IKEA Foundation an executive with whom I have worked for at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, a Norwegian-Swedish owned shipping company. That gave me the introduction to IKEA Leeds.

Today, the eight-year association with IKEA is reaping rewards and the student IKEA project has morphed into a three-year scholarship deal with the university. Leeds Beckett is the only university in the world to have such an association with the company. In 2018 Leeds Business School’s collaboration with IKEA was shortlisted in the ‘Most Innovative Contribution to Business-University Collaboration’ in the Times Higher Education Awards.

The research project for IKEA

Every year up to 25 postgraduate students on the MA Public Relations and Strategic Communication (MAPR) and the MA International Communication (MIC) are put into teams of four or five to work on a research project for IKEA – normally in the form of a communications audit on an aspect of IKEA’s business to help identify and improve business performance through communication.

The assessment consists of an outline proposal, a competitive pitch to IKEA Leeds’ management team, an executive report and peer assessment.

IKEA and Leeds Business School mentor the students – through team tutorials – to ready them for the competitive pitch. We ensure that each team is a mix of ethnicity, gender and experience (academically and practical). Teams have to pick a team leader a client contact and tutor contact. The teams are responsible for effectively running the project, providing agendas for meetings and contact reports - as would happen in a ‘live’ PR consultancy.


"The relationship with IKEA is one that continues to reap rewards for students and helps build the university’s profile with the wider business community."

At the end of the module students identified that the IKEA project gave them 12 out of the 18 skills that employers sought in graduates entering the PR profession, according to the 2014 survey.

Further positive feedback over the years has been obtained from graduates from the programme who tell us that the IKEA project helped them at job interviews to gain worthwhile roles in PR and marketing.

The relationship with IKEA is one that continues to reap rewards for students and helps build the university’s profile with the wider business community.



Published: 22 January 2019

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