PROFILE: John Grounds, NSPCC - Grounds plots careful course to NSPCC role. Comms director John Grounds is keen to help the charity make a difference

While visiting a medical researcher as part of his job as director

of communications at the charity Action Research, John Grounds'

attention turned to the vast collection of baby photographs adorning one

of the office walls.

'The researcher said they were all babies who were alive due to the work

of Action Research. For me that sums up the driving force behind what my

job is. It shows there is a direct relationship between PR and people's

lives,' he says.

This may seem like mere sentimental spin, especially as Grounds, who in

January becomes the NSPCC's PR chief, is one of the voluntary sector's

most experienced communicators.

But his CV does show a consistency in his choice of jobs - CND,

Barnardo's, Action Research and the NSPCC - that gives weight to his

view that PR can be a truly caring profession. Even when he wanted

corporate experience he was drawn to the Body Shop, known as much for

its social responsibility as its cosmetics.

When asked what irritates him in his work, his answer is 'the bad press

that PR as an industry gets. Many journalists are only interested in bad

practice. PR people are human beings, believe it or not, although you

wouldn't believe it from some of the things that are printed.'

Grounds' PR career started while a politics and French student at

Reading University in the late 1980s, when he helped CND to produce its


After university he continued his writing, a passion made more fierce by

his move from Essex to London. Articles for former Time Out rival City

Limits followed, as did a book - London: A Living Guide.

But his passion for a cause and belief in PR won out, and in 1990 he

rejoined CND, this time as head of PR and campaigns. Although there was

a brief resurgence during the Gulf War, this was a time, like so many in

the peace movement's history, when membership was on the wane.

Although Grounds says this concerned him, he admits defeat in his

attempt to keep CND consistently strong, something the organisation

still struggles to achieve. Grounds says: 'To a lot of supporters,

organisations like Greenpeace seemed to become more relevant. The fall

of the Berlin Wall and progress in arms talks made it harder.'

CND campaigns officer Tony Myers was in the same team as Grounds. He

says: 'Some people you remember, some you don't, some are genuine, some

aren't - but John we all remember.

It seemed like he'd done a lot of PR work before, knew his stuff and was

a really nice, genuine guy.'

A year later Grounds moved to the Body Shop, taking him for the first

(and only) time into the business world: 'Joining the Body Shop was not

a departure from social responsibility. It's an active campaigner and

that attracted me.'

During his five-year spell there he moved from PRO to head of

international PR, scooped two PRWeek In-house Team of the Year awards

and another two for International Campaign of the Year. By the time he

left to join Barnardo's, he was acting head of corporate


Barnardo's reinforced his commitment to internal relations. The charity

was at a crossroads; despite its campaigning it was still viewed as

merely the manager of orphanages. 'We hadn't done that for years. We

needed to speak to staff and volunteers in developing a new


Barnardo's director of marketing and communications Andrew Nebel says:

'He's terrifically motivated and passionate about making a difference in


Grounds's move from east London-based Barnardo's to Action Research,

based near his home in Horsham, West Sussex, was partly motivated by his

desire to take the high status PR job. But the main reason was his role

as a father and fear that the commute around the M25 was costing him too

much time with his son, now 11.

Grounds speaks passionately about Action Research's work, which has

raised funds for medical research for 50 years. He particularly

remembers his time with the McConnell family, who helped an AR campaign

to change regulations on administering adult drugs to children. Their

daughter Lexi had died after being given an inappropriate steroid while

being treated for a routine eye injury.

'People don't know what the media can be like,' says Grounds. 'But they

are, on the whole, there to help campaigns and it is vital we handle PR

right to protect families.'

Grounds describes the NSPCC job as one of the biggest in his field. He

is, though, diplomatic when asked if he has plans for widespread change,

saying 'it's got a high profile and a good set-up - my role is to use my

experience to help.'

What's more, the commute to central London still allows him time with

his son: 'I'm a father before anything else,' he says.

Sounds as if the PR for his new employers has started in earnest.


1990: Head of PR/campaigns, CND

1991: Head of int'national PR, The Body Shop

1996: Head of comms/ads, Barnardo's

1998: Director of campaigns/comms , Action Research

2002: Comms director, NSPCC

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