PR teaching profile – Catherine Sweet

Catherine SweetName:
Dr Catherine Sweet                                          

Work title:
Senior Lecturer and Course Leader, BA (Hons) in PR & Communications, Southampton Solent University 

BA (Hons) International Relations, University of Virginia (USA). Masters and Doctorate in International Relations, St Antony’s College, Oxford University.  MCIPR since 1988. 

Academic experience: 
I’ve been at Solent University as a part time lecturer for three years. I now lead the course and am working to develop a BA (Hons) in Corporate Communications, as well as a PR Pathway for a BA (Hons) in Online Communications.

Professional experience: 
I’m an American by birth but I’ve lived over half my life in the UK. I’ve had twenty years’ plus experience as a practitioner, working mostly in-house but with some agency experience. My career has included public affairs, marketing communications and PR for financial services and professional organisations. I’ve worked for the Stock Exchange, the FSA and the British Bankers’ Association. I’ve been a Head of Parliamentary Relations twice, a Director of Corporate Communications twice, a CEO once, and now offer consultancy to clients. I’ve traveled all over the world and worked in some pretty exotic places, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the Ukraine and Russia. I am an accredited coach specialising in top team development, performance improvement and change management.  

Teaching philosophy: 
Inspire students with passion and enthusiasm, based on my own experience. There’s nothing like explaining crisis PR by using as an example the day my boss was arrested at dawn by the Serious Fraud Office! As a university, we need to equip students with the means to succeed and prosper. I like to think that my blend of practicality with intellectual challenge helps students make sense out of it all.

Research interests: 
Public policy advocacy, issues management, CSR and ethics.

Interests outside work: 
I live in an 18th century thatched cottage in a beautiful rural Hampshire village with my husband and two Labradors. I ring church bells, indulge in ballroom dancing classes (love Argentine Tango!) and am writing my first novel, set in 15th century Italy. If I won the lottery, I’d spend far too much on long haul travel, fine wine and books. 

Why did you become a lecturer?
I stopped working in the City of London to find time to enjoy life and give something back. I was approached through my CIPR contacts to cover for a lecturer for six weeks. I took to it like a duck to water, and enjoy it immensely. It’s challenging, intellectually interesting and makes a difference to the quality of other people’s lives.  

What do you most like / dislike about your current role?
Like – the fact that this is communication that changes lives, and if you get it right, you can see the difference it makes to the way students grow in confidence and skill.  If I had to grumble about something, it would be students who sign up for a tutorial and then don’t show up. 

What is your proudest achievement?  
That’s a toss up between being one of the first American women to win a Rhodes Scholarship in 1977, and having a successful and happy marriage for 28 years. On second thought, my husband has made more of a difference to me as a human being than anything else.

What is your greatest disappointment? 
Not starting my novel ten years ago.

How has public relations changed during your lifetime?  
When I started there were no university degrees in PR. And, to be honest, if there had been, I wouldn’t have done it because the reputation of “PR” wasn’t very appealing.  I think the profession has become more respected over the last twenty years, as people begin to appreciate how communication is a strategic management tool and an essential skill of government. 

How do you envisage it developing in the future?
I worry that PR will be split in half. Too many practitioners will be side-tracked down the route of tactical ploys, technological gizmos and other “tricks of the trade”. The other path is into the boardroom, where communication really makes a difference. I’ve seen how a good PR and Comms professional can change the business fundamentals for an organisation, in a way that the accountancy and legal professions do. CIPR membership, Continuous Professional Development and Chartered Practitioner status need to be directed toward this kind of professional communicator, rather than the “spin doctors” who hog the pages of PR Week. We need better PR for PR…


  1. Laura Tata Onuigbo says:

    After reading through Catherine’s profile, all I can say is wow! She has just become my role model, and I’m so grateful to have this once-in-a-lifetime chance of tapping from her wealth of knowldge and wisdom, as her student in Southampton Solent University.

  2. Laura Tata Onuigbo says:

    After reading through Catherine’s profile, all I can say is wow! She has just become my role model, and I’m so grateful to have this once-in-a-lifetime chance of tapping from her wealth of knowledge and wisdom, as her student in Southampton Solent University.

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