As British ambassador to the US during the run-up to the Iraq war, Sir Christopher Meyer led an embassy staff of more than 400 that interacted with US lawmakers, the media, and the business community in every imaginable sector. That was likely good preparation for his new part-time job on Fleishman-Hillard's advisory board.
In this new role as senior advisor, Meyer expects to provide a range of clients with strategic advice based on more than three decades in the UK diplomatic service, including stints in Russia, Spain, Germany, and Belgium. Obviously, so much of what a diplomat does is communication of one type or another, he explains.
His life as DC ambassador meant attending quite a few cocktail parties and playing tennis with Condoleezza Rice. But without sounding "too 'hair shirt' and Spartan," Meyer says the socializing is essentially part of the job.
"You're getting to know individuals on the Hill who are influential and to whom you can speak more easily in the corner of a room where people are drinking and laughing," he says. "Then when an issue arises, you know the fellow or woman well enough to pick up the phone and say, 'I need to come talk to you.'"
Along with lawmakers and the White House, the embassy keeps close ties with the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to track international economic issues, Meyer adds. The embassy's team also work with UK companies to promote trade in the US, and sometimes to help along proposed M&As that encounter regulatory problems.
The issues Meyer coped with as ambassador from 1997 to 2003 were broad, as was the guidance provided to Meyer by the UK government.
"You're given the strategic objectives and then earn your pay by working out the details and tactics," he notes. "It may sound like, 'My God, I've got 10 different things to do when I get up,' but, in fact, the priorities set themselves. For example, on the trade front, the kinds of things that always ring alarm bells in London are tariffs or quotas [proposed by Congress] on British exports."
Fleishman vice chairman and public affairs chief Paul Johnson says that the international experience of advisory board members like Meyer supports the agency's increasingly global work. In addition, close ties between Meyer and other board members, such as former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, aid more effective collaboration in advising clients.
"We're talking about people who are used to playing four-dimensional chess," Johnson says. "That's a skill set, a way of thinking that's really useful."
Meyer also has some firsthand experience in handling media controversy, having published in 2005 an inside account of his days as ambassador in Washington called, DC Confidential. Some politicians in the UK claimed the book revealed too much about his tenure, but Meyer notes he was required to get approval by the UK government for its content prior to publication.
"Their reaction was beyond all proportion," but it certainly helped promote the book, Meyer acknowledges. "You don't need anyone in PR if you've got a couple of cabinet ministers jumping up and down like I don't know what."
Senior adviser, Fleishman-Hillard
Chairman, UK Press Complaints Commission
British ambassador to the US