PROFILE: Anne Gregory, Leeds Metropolitan University - Education enthusiast advocates ethical PR. Leeds Met professor of PR Anne Gregory offers straight-talking expertise

As Britain's only professor of public relations, Leeds Metropolitan University's affable PR course director Anne Gregory seems to have perfected the art of remaining calm while her work is questioned. After 11 years in academia, her communications skills are still tested by what continues to be a lukewarm reaction to the concept of a PR degree among the industry at large.

Many, of course, contend that it is not possible to teach PR. While she disagrees with that belief - adding that her PR students are sent out for considerable on-the-job training - she maintains that the degree is broader-based than simply advising on the writing of press releases: 'We teach accounting, human resources, management, business strategy and marketing, too. We look to produce business graduates, not PR graduates,' she says.

Her pleasantness in the face of constant questioning of the course's validity is disarming, yet she remains baffled by the lack of awareness of Leeds Met's work in the industry.

She suggests that perhaps too much is expected of PR graduates compared to those from other subject areas entering the business world: 'One of the criticisms of PR graduates is that they can't write as fluently as would be expected, but people have to remember that the PR degree is just a starting point. You would not expect law or accountancy graduates to be able to go immediately into a job and begin earning for their employer,' she says.

She argues that the relatively high academic requirements for the Leeds Met PR course - three Bs at A-Level - are indicative of the 'bright' graduates she believes the course turns out: 'People who come away from the course may not go into PR, but they have learned about business and communications and that will be of obvious value to them.'

Having started her PR career at what was then Leeds Polytechnic, Gregory went on to work as a press officer at the Bradford & Bingley building society, to head the PR department of Bradford University and then to work as an account director with Shandwick in the north-east until 1991.

The fact the PR industry has changed so markedly since she entered academia underlines the need for input from the industry on the content of PR courses: 'If we are talking about ratcheting up the performance of the industry and getting people thinking about why they are doing things and getting thinking into the profession,then it helps. There is a place for law graduates, for medical graduates in healthcare PR, but that doesn't mean that PR graduates cannot cut the mustard,' she says.

'Some of the criticism of PR graduates also applies to general media studies and communications graduates,' she adds, 'but the accredited communications courses should not be lumped together with them.'

The ethics of PR is another theme close to Gregory's heart. When we meet she is facing a hectic schedule including the keynote address, titled 'To Spin or Not to Spin - The Ethics of Public Relations', at the AGM of the IPR. Her lecture saw her advocate the reintroduction of the phrase 'having regard for the truth' into the IPR Code of Conduct, and suggest that the body should actively expose bad practice by its members.

Ingraining such ethical theories starts with training, she says: 'There are different theories in terms of ethics and persuasion that students have to get to grips with, so that they can think about what they are doing. They have to question why they are doing something and whether there are better ways to do it.'

The changing nature of the PR industry is perhaps best indicated by the increasing importance of communications within companies: 'When I started at Bradford & Bingley in 1980 I was only the second PR person they had ever employed. As an industry we've had to earn our spurs. A lot of people came in from a journalism background and you were there to write the press releases, field the media and act defensively. We're now seeing a number of extremely senior appointments,' she adds.

PRCA chairman Tom Watson is a keen admirer of Gregory's role in the profession's development: 'She's a great enthusiast and motivator for PR education and has made an immense contribution to its development, both at university, through the PRCA and editing books on PR practice,' he says.

Watson cites Gregory's 'Yorkshire directness' as a personal characteristic.

If her students can adopt some of that directness and openness, the industry can't help but benefit.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in