Profile: Picture of health - Erin Huntington, corporate affairs director, Lilly UK

Aged 33, Lilly UK's Erin Huntington ranks as one of Britain's youngest corporate affairs directors. But what this focused and diminutive blonde American lacks in years, she makes up for in heavyweight experience, having spent years on Washington DC's Capitol Hill before relocating to Britain just over three months ago.

Lilly UK is the 'local affiliate' (Huntington apologises for using 'internal-speak') of Eli Lilly & Co, the US giant behind drugs such as antidepressant Prozac, anti-psychotic Zyprexa and impotence treatment Cialis.

Huntington's relative youth merely reflects her company, she says, talking to PRWeek at Lilly UK's Basingstoke HQ. 'We have a young management here.'

Despite hailing from Indiana ('Hoosier and proud!' she says, an affectionate reference to home), which is also home to Lilly, Huntington has never worked for the company there. Instead she joined almost eight years ago in Washington, where she was at university.

From political stock - her father is mayor of a small town in southern Indiana - she brings Lilly UK first-hand experience of how decisions are made in the all-important US. She took over from Maxine Taylor, now Cancer Research UK executive director of policy and comms, who left 'quite a legacy' says Huntington, unprompted. 'Corporate affairs is a best-practice team at Lilly.'

Her first few weeks have been devoted to meetings with top Lilly executives, her 17 corporate affairs staff and 'customers'. She currently spends one day each week in London, meeting MPs and patient associations, and is a committee member on the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's Access Strategy Group.

PRWeek's interview is her first since arriving in the UK and she has yet to meet Lilly's PR agencies here, although this is high on her to-do list.

Describing herself as an 'early bird', Huntington often goes on a morning run near her Twickenham home ('it gets so light so early in England').

Her fiance, who has a sales role at drugs company Janssen-Cilag, will shortly join her from the US.

Referring to her passion for running in the context of her early career, spent as an adviser to Republican senator Richard Luger, she says: 'The only way as a young staffer to really get to know a senator was to run with him.'

Saying she regularly spotted the likes of Bill Clinton's strategist James Carville out for a jog, she cites many of the press secretaries for high-ranking Washington officials as 'incredible' communicators.

She also enjoys crosswords (asking which British paper she should take to test herself) and international relations, holding a degree in political science and Spanish from Indiana University, and a masters in international affairs from George Washington University.

But Huntington is not totally wet behind the ears in the UK. She spent two months in London in 1993, working for the late backbench Tory MP Michael Colvin. She also has experience on the Continent, spending two months last summer in Istanbul, helping to 'build up the corporate affairs team for the local affiliate'.

Drugs companies have had a rough time from the media of late, and Huntington acknowledges this as a trans-atlantic issue. 'What's playing in the US media is the same as here,' she says. 'We all need to better communicate the good things that we do.' She cites Lilly's establishment of its global clinical trials registry last year as indicative of how it wants to become more transparent.

When asked to pick the proudest moment of her career, her answer is unapologetically corporate: 'It was a cross-functional assignment in Indiana in 2003, putting a process in place for all our affiliates worldwide.'

It is early days yet for Huntington in the UK. Is she here for the long run? 'I'm 98 per cent certain... if they'll have me (self-effacing shrug).

But I think I'll be at Lilly for life, whether in Indianapolis or somewhere else.'

CV

1993: Legislative assistant for senator Richard Lugar

1997: International government relations associate, Lilly (Washington)

2001: International public and government relations manager for Latin

America and Canada, Lilly (Washington)

2003: Global government affairs manager for Europe, Lilly (Washington)

2005: Corporate affairs director, Lilly UK

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