View from the top: David Brewer

Adam Hill looks at how the outgoing Lord Mayor of London has transformed the role with an emphasis on strategic comms.

Is this London's top PR man? Until last weekend, the sleek, silver-haired 60-something David Brewer was the 678th Lord Mayor of London. While the role dates back to 1189 - and sounds more Robin Hood than Square Mile - the titular head of the City of London Corporation has handled a very modern comms brief.

Responsible for promoting the UK's financial services industry at home and abroad, Brewer's recently completed schedule makes Kofi Annan look like a layabout. In the past year Brewer has travelled to Austria, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Mongolia and Brunei (to name but a few destinations). ‘It's promotion in an ambassadorial sense,' he says smoothly.

Brewer is highly media-savvy. He crafts a weekly column for the daily financial freesheet City AM, and his dual roles of chairman and director respectively of insurance firms Sedgwick and Sumitomo see the press flock to his every movement. In September, Brewer made his 105th visit to China (his second as Lord Mayor) - resulting in articles in the Financial Times and Sunday Times, as well as a variety of Chinese papers.

From sumo to summits
But Brewer does not see his corporate roles as like that of a spin doctor. ‘Our PR is telling people what the City does well and efficiently, not trying to make something out of nothing,' he says. ‘In Japan, I used to write a monthly column for Sumitomo's in-house magazine - but I would rather talk about why sumo wrest­ling and cricket are similar than about business stuff. I didn't want to bore the pants off them.'

On his former mayoral role, Brewer explains how he acted as a vital public affairs ‘enabler', opening up his Mansion House residence to business people and government bigwigs. ‘Under Chatham House rules they can chat about what's concerning them,' he says. Brewer also entertained visiting heads of state and foreign dignitaries. ‘If chairmen and MDs hear that the president of Algeria is visiting, they are very happy to come down here and talk,' he explains.

Yet comms at the Lord Mayor's office also takes a grittier form. ‘We do a lot of research and reports that are much-quoted in ministers' speeches - about London's position as a financial centre, or on the recruitment of young people into banks,' Brewer says.

Tireless promoter
Other Lord Mayors have been a lot more ‘consumer-facing'. For instance, Brewer's predecessor, Michael Berry Savory, fronted a campaign to save the beloved red telephone box. This, though, is not his style, which is a shame because he is well-suited to in-your-face promotion - talking to him is like being hit by a conversational bulldozer.

Why the Corporation's head of press Greg Williams sits in on PRWeek's interview is anyone's guess. After a year doing the job, Brewer is more than capable of looking after himself. At one point, Williams suggests we should wrap things up before the Lord Mayor's next appointment. ‘No,' says Brewer firmly. ‘The Pearly Kings and Queens are flexible. This is very important.'

On the other hand though, Brewer, by his own admission, has much more pressing concerns with which to deal. His brief - until last Sunday - included lobbying in Europe on behalf of the banking sector around issues concerning regulation and corporate taxation (‘we need it to be less complicated, not necessarily lower'). He also has strong views on transport, given that 330,000 people travel by Tube to the City every day (‘uncomfort­able and unreliable').

Of course, the Lord Mayor does not tend to use the Underground himself. Indeed, a Rolls-Royce (number plate LM0) and a Corporation-branded London taxi - both chauffeur-driven - are his preferred choice of travel. It means that Brewer could easily seem like a terribly nice chap, who spends a year talking to other terribly nice chaps about the state of things.

Obviously wary of this image, Brewer made young professionals the focus of his 12-month tenure. Richard Kaye, head of European government affairs at JP Morgan, worked with Brewer to organise a reception at Mansion House - the first of its kind - for up-and-coming talent.

‘Brewer sees a lot of their bosses but grasped the value of meeting the younger generation,' says Kaye. ‘He made time to go into their offices for meetings. You always sensed he was listening hard.'

This chimes with the view of Anthony Belchambers, chief executive of the Futures and Options Association, who accompanied Brewer to China and Spain this year: ‘No matter how pressed, he had time for people.'

It is not all glamour, of course, but the trappings of office must bring temptations: as well as the foreign travel and high-level networking, consider the public exposure: the Lord Mayor's Show is itself a parade of 6,000 people, taking in St Paul's Cathedral, where the mayor is blessed, and the Royal Courts of Justice, where he swears an oath to the Queen - all live on the BBC. One City source says darkly: ‘There have been Lord Mayors who are quite arrogant, overly conscious of their position.' Brewer is manifestly not one of them. ‘I've known of mayors to do the whole "Do you know who I am?" sort of thing - they never do and don't bloody care!' he guffaws.

Brewer reveals that all the pomp and ceremony comes at a price: Lord Mayors are required to make 600 speeches a year. With on-the-road briefings, long-haul flights and formal dinners, it is not uncommon for his day to start at 5am and end at midnight. ‘Things can sometimes become stressed,' says Kaye. ‘But David is unflappable, placid. I never heard or saw him become irritated.'

It is no wonder then that Lord Mayors only hold the post for 12 months. ‘I'm going to name drop now,' Brewer says with evident pleasure. ‘As I said to the Duke of Edinburgh - I admire him tremendously - as one year ends for the Royal Family, another begins. But Lord Mayors only do it for one year.'

This is typical: ‘charming', ‘engaging', ‘unstuffy' and ‘relaxed' are adjectives that recur when people discuss Brewer. It is unlikely that many of his predecessors have been a more enthusiastic, tireless flag-waver for the City - ‘Do you know we sweep the streets 11 times a day?' - he asks urgently.

His badge - the outsized medal of office - is worth a cool £17m. A replica is used when the Mayor is travelling, and it will by now be hanging around a new neck. While on Brewer though, one suspects it would have been the only fake thing about him.

CV - David Brewer

2005-2006 - Lord Mayor of London

2002 - Sheriff of the City of London

1999 - Chairman (City Branch), Institute of Directors

1998 - Chairman, Sedgwick Japan Ltd

1997 - Chairman, The Great Britain-China Centre

1994 - Director, Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance Company (Europe)

1993 - Chairman of Sedgwick Insurance and Risk Management Consultants (China)

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