PROFILE: John Aspery, IPR - President Aspery set for challenges at IPR

New chief is determined to maintain the high standards of the profession.

This year's IPR president John Aspery is what some might term 'old school'. A 44-year veteran of the PR industry, he refers to himself as 'a suit and tie man', sees lessons to be learnt from Victorian businessmen when it comes to modern day CSR and carries business cards on which his mobile phone number is conspicuously absent.

Of course, this is no surprise to the likes of Stephen Jolly, who stood against Aspery in the contest for the 2003 presidency, under the slogan 'The vanguard, not the old guard'.

'It doesn't bother me, I don't mind being a member of the old guard,' says Aspery.

But while readily accepting this tag, it would be a mistake to assume Aspery is simply an establishment man living in the past. He firmly rejects another Jolly assertion, made after last year's unsuccessful attempt to gain the 2004 presidency, that the IPR could be seen as a 'coterie of insiders unresponsive to members' more immediate needs.'

And he is passionate about change in relation to better handling of the regions. As a Watford-based consultant he is a former chair of the Home Counties North group, and claims to have visited or been in contact with every regional branch over the last year as president-elect.

Aspery sees himself as a classic example of journalist turned PRO. Brought up in a 'working class' family in London, he attended grammar school and always wanted to be a newsman, to look like his hero Humphrey Bogart.

After stints at a weekly paper in London, United Press of America and The Daily Telegraph, he joined the PR sector with food group Heinz in 1958, which he didn't leave until 1990, when he became a consultant.

His focus for IPR work in 2003 stems from his disappointment with past regional meetings and he wants to see more good practice sharing among the regional groups: 'A lot of the talking with groups has been to the headquarters but not each other - that needs to change.'

Late last year the PRCA snubbed IPR overtures of a more combined structure, instead preferring to join a 'big tent' confederation of marketers and advertisers.

Is this renewed enthusiasm for grassroots focus a reaction to the IPR's failure to extend itself externally? 'No', says Aspery, who meets PRCA leaders this month, adding: 'I'm determined the dialogue continues. I'm sure there are ventures and shared projects we can be involved in.'

Aspery is also keen to ensure the profession maintains high standards.

As a consultant who specialises in crisis communications he is careful not to use the dreaded phrase 'back to basics', but believes lessons from the past shouldn't be forgotten. In addition, he still takes media enquiries down in shorthand to help him 'read between the lines of a question'.

For the year ahead he sees CSR as the 'buzzword', although arguably it has been that for some years now. He also uses a particularly un-buzzy example of good CSR practice, Henry Heinz, who in 1869 founded the company where Aspery served as a PRO for more than 30 years.

In an era when food firms could disguise a jar's contents with the use of established brown or green glass, Asprey points out that: 'He was the first to use clear glass'. Heralding this as the beginning of the end of irresponsible behaviour by food producers, he adds: 'At a stroke, Heinz pioneered CSR.'

Despite running for president of the IPR he says he is not particularly ambitious, exemplified by his time at Heinz, where it took 22 years to reach the top of the PR department.

How will other parts of his personality shape the IPR? 'I like to think I have an open style ... a collegiate style of leadership,' he says.

'There was a time when people came into this role with their own objectives.

There's continuity now and I see Anne Gregory, (set to take over in 2004) as a partner rather than a deputy.'

When asked if Aspery should merely be seen as the establishment choice and a safe pair of hands, British Association of Communications in Business vice-president John Makin says: 'He is good with committees, doesn't rush and is good at getting people together. If that's establishment then maybe that's a good thing.'

He adds that Aspery, a former chairman of the BACB, is best remembered at the body for his lack of convention. 'At one meeting during a speech he got out a mouth organ and started playing. It was in context but I'm blowed if I remember how.'


1958: PRO, Heinz

1980: Head of PR, Heinz

1990: Founder, Aspery Associates

2003: President, IPR.

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