It has been just over a year since Jeremy Beadles joined Heineken – and by any measure he has had far from a gentle introduction.
He took on the head of corporate relations role in a ‘landmark’ year for the brewer, which included vital debates about the future of alcohol regulation, its Olympic sponsorship and James Bond’s first sip of Heineken beer on-screen in Skyfall.
It is a change from the more staid world of trade associations that he has been used to, with six years spent at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) and another six at the British Retail Consortium (BRC). His move to these industry bodies was a result of CSR work following a number of years as a solicitor specialising in environmental law.
At the BRC he created the trade association’s commercial arm, which was producing a million-pound turnover within a couple of years. His move to the drinks industry’s WSTA was more of a challenge.
‘It needed refreshing; it needed a different approach and new ideas and a bit more political lobbying and media work and a higher profile. That’s what I was brought in to do, and that’s what I did.’
With the threat of minimum pricing per alcohol unit of 45p currently mooted across England and Wales and a 50p benchmark on the horizon in Scotland, Beadles will need to call on his considerable experience of the drinks industry to argue Heineken’s position on the issue.
In his last year at the WSTA he helped negotiate an agreement between the drinks industry, government and NGOs to tackle alcohol misuse as part of the Government’s public health responsibility deal – at the time the largest voluntary agreement within the alcohol industry.
He wins praise for this from Dan Jago, UK and group wine director at Tesco, who has known Beadles for nearly eight years through the WSTA: ‘He’s an extremely professional operator and has a lawyer’s mind – calm and considered.’
‘It’s a challenging arena,’ Beadles admits of the pricing debate. ‘It’s confrontational and is quite polarised at the moment. Finding the middle ground that people can agree on requires a lot of work.’
With Heineken and the rest of the industry already having come out against minimum pricing, the debate ‘will rumble on for a good few years’, he readily admits.
So how does Heineken plan to drive the media agenda around the issue, which has yet to filter down to the average drinker in the pub or on the sofa?
At this stage Heineken’s media relations focuses on what effect it would have on its business, and it is aligned with the rest of the industry on engaging the Government rather than consumers.
‘Consumers kind of understand it now and what premium products are and what standard products are, but on the day it comes in they’ll see something quite different,’ he warns. ‘That’s the point where the retailer faces the brunt of consumer anger, and the Government will be in control of the pricing. There’s a long way to go in that conversation first.’
Clearly it is in Heineken’s interest to bring clarity to the debate before it reaches the consumer. Pointing to declining sales, and a drop in alcohol consumption among men, women and young people, Beadles argues ‘one of the key things politicians need to do is look at the reality’.
Is there a moral panic around the issue of drinking? ‘I wouldn’t say that. A lot of the political conversations I will have are from the view of "we have to do something because consumption’s rising so much". But actually a lot of the data shows that things have been getting better, not worse. And that’s government data.’
He is keen to clarify Heineken does not underestimate the problem: ‘I’m not saying nothing needs to be done, but when understanding what the solutions are you start from a factual point of view.’
Beadles makes a complicated issue sound simple, from Heineken’s perspective at least. ‘The political and media agenda in the UK creates uncertainty,’ he points out.
The ability to communicate with a diverse and often polarised group of people is another reason why Heineken has made a savvy hire in Beadles. He is firmly on message throughout the interview and it is hard to imagine him kicking back and relaxing with a pint in hand at the office bar, which is only glimpsed during our visit.
Taking on a role that covers all aspects of Heineken’s comms output – media relations, brand PR, CSR, government relations, internal comms and sponsorship and events – is a significant challenge for the most experienced corporate affairs director, let alone someone from outside the traditional corporate comms background.
However, Beadles’ work at the BRC and WSTA has evidently incorporated all these elements as well as giving him a wider view of the sector that other high-level comms professionals might be missing.
‘The parts that are new to me are probably around sponsorship, but it’s a very interesting area,’ he says confidently.
Wrapping up, he tells PRWeek about finding himself at the London 2012 Closing Ceremony after-party, in the company of Olympic athletes, the Prime Minister and the cast of The Expendables.
Having dwelt on a vast range of weighty industry issues, at least there is a hint of the more glamorous side of working for a drinks company and that Beadles might, in fact, even be enjoying it.
2012 Corporate relations director, Heineken UK
2006 Chief executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association
2003 Managing director, British Retail Consortium
2002 Commercial director, British Retail Consortium
2001 CSR director, British Retail Consortium
1998 Senior solicitor, Blake Lapthon
1993 Solicitor, Stewarts
TIPS FROM THE TOP
What was your biggest career break?
Leaving the legal profession. I realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer for the rest of my career and the decision has proved to be the right one, as I have moved from retail, to wines and spirits and now into cider and beer.
Have you had a notable mentor?
I have been very lucky to work for and with some great people who have inspired me. If I had to single out a couple I would say Christopher Carson and Tim How, who were my two chairmen at the WSTA and both inspiring businesspeople.
What advice would you give people climbing the career ladder?
Work hard, believe in yourself, and do not be afraid to make big and unexpected career jumps.
What qualities do you look for in new recruits?
People with their own opinions, who are willing to take decisions and who eventually want my job.