PROFILE: Charles Lewis, Royal British Legion; Running off to join the Legion

Charles Lewis, the Royal British Legion’s newly-appointed first director of public relations, took the job because he says he wanted to ‘put something back in’ after 30 years in corporate PR. While some may see it as the last staging post in a long PR career, those who know Lewis don’t doubt his sincerity.

Charles Lewis, the Royal British Legion’s newly-appointed first director

of public relations, took the job because he says he wanted to ‘put

something back in’ after 30 years in corporate PR. While some may see it

as the last staging post in a long PR career, those who know Lewis don’t

doubt his sincerity.



The sentiment is understandable in someone who initially planned to

enter the church after completing an MA in theology at Cambridge and who

has had nagging doubts about whether not doing so was the right

decision.



While he’s unwilling to discuss his reasons for the change of heart, he

implies that the move to the British Legion is not unrelated to his

earlier ambitions. There are plenty of other things that Lewis doesn’t

want to talk about. His shorter than expected, one year at Grayling PR

in 1988, is another. It was his only stint at a PR consultancy and,

while he says he would ‘never say never again’ to consultancies, it did

put him off a career in agencies at the time. This archetypal behind-

the-scenes PR man has the well polished knack of appearing willing to

chat about anything while sidestepping issues and keeping a tight rein

on what he says.



‘I firmly believe PR is about stage management or the management of

other people. I have never got into self promotion, it’s the company

that matters. We’re here to advise, steer and anticipate problems in a

professional way,’ he says.



Our conversation is peppered with phrases like ‘if I could rephrase your

question another way’, or ‘if I could answer a slightly different

question’ and ‘you might like to know...’ and ‘you might like to

include...’.



There are people who are utterly irksome in this regard. Lewis gets away

with it, possibly helped by his ability to drop human interest

anecdotes seamlessly into conversation.



In explaining why his second job as publications manager at Costain in

1968 lasted only a year, Lewis drops in a tale of romance. After

proposing to his wife the first time he met her, only weeks after moving

to London to join Costain, they decided London wasn’t the place to live

and bring up children.



One of the most impressive things about the Liverpool born and bred

Lewis is his CV. Dating back to his training as an assistant press

relations officer at Pilkington in 1966, it spans Costain, PR manager at

Avon Rubber, divisional PR manger at ICI, head of public and investor

relations at RTZ, director at Grayling, controller of PR at HTV and

director of corporate communications for British Steel.



He says his greatest strength is in being a generalist and that managing

and motivating people is what he does best As his former colleagues

testify, Lewis has a way with people. A former British Steel colleague

describes him as well-loved by the company - ‘that’s saying something in

a company where, unless you have been here 25 years, you’re considered a

newcomer’.



Another says he is well suited to his new role: ‘I think it will be the

sort of atmosphere he will like. He is a good networker and knows a lot

of people.’



As for the state of the PR industry, Lewis, who has conducted many

agency reviews in his career, is reticent. He is scathing about agency

mark ups and, only when pushed, rates Shandwick and Biss Lancaster as

ahead of the pack. Now in a new position, he is likely to be going

through the agency review process in the near future.



Lewis is obviously bristling with energy to get started on helping the

Legion, which has 750,000 members, 750 staff and a turnover of pounds 30

million, revamp its image. Two days into the job, he’s definitely not

the picture of someone sitting out his last days.



HIGHLIGHTS



1983 Director of public affairs, Tesco

1986 Head of public and invester relations, RTZ

1988 Director, the Grayling Group

1989 Controller of PR, HTV

1990 Director of corporate communications, British Steel

1996 Director of corporate communications, Royal British Legion



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