Profile: Mark Hastings, The British Beer and Pub Association

Can I get you a beer?’ chuckles Mark Hastings, as he settles down in his office. The British Beer and Pub Association’s imposing, high-rise building in Vauxhall is also home to the Department of Health.

'Ironic, isn't it?' he jokes. 'Not that beer's bad for your health,' he adds. 'Unless you drink 18 pints a night.'

After five years as the pub industry's spokesman – and with binge drinking, smoking in pubs and extended licensing hours currently filling the news schedules – Hastings ensures even his jokes are on-message.

He has done more than 1,500 media interviews in 2005 alone, and much of his work has been leading up to this moment – 'D-Day', as he calls it – 24 November, when new licensing laws come into effect.

Hastings' favourite drink is, of course, beer. And his favourite beer? 'The next one,' he says, declining to single out any of the hundreds of brands represented by the BBPA.

It is this diplomacy and 'strategic skill' for which Hastings was hired. Mike Foster, the former BBPA chairman who brought Hastings in, remembers he 'wanted a seriously good PR man – and we got one in Mark'.

Hastings is in his element as he makes the case for his industry. The arguments are sound: there is nothing explicitly wrong with alcohol in moderation; the heavily taxed drinks industry makes a great financial contribution to the public sector; most young people in pubs are just having good, safe fun; the phrase '24-hour drinking' is an 'urban myth' as no pubs will be open all hours; and extended licensing hours will allow more people to go to pubs, rather than encourage existing pub-goers to drink more.

And Hasting stresses the importance of addressing even these controversial issues with a light touch.

'Working in communications is enormous fun,' he says. 'And getting fun and enjoyment out of it makes you a better communicator. If you're phoning journalists sounding aggressive or defensive, it's going to be a bad conversation.'

It is no surprise that Hastings, 45 and married with two young children, once considered a career as a politician and studied political science. He describes his first job, as a 'backroom grunt' at Ken Livingstone's GLC, as dipping his toe in politics. But he soon realised that business, albeit with a political slant, interested him far more.

Hastings often starts work as early as 5am, with interviews on breakfast radio or TV. But no day is predictable: 'You may think you know what your working day is going to be like, but one headline can change it all – instead of writing a report you might be doing TV interviews for 12 hours. You can never be sure.'

Similarly, it can be extremely frustrating when, after weeks of demonstrating the industry's social responsibility, 'a newspaper covers one pub allowing a 14-year-old to buy drinks all night. That gives you a huge internal groan, because you know it's not representative of the industry at large – and it can deflate an entire programme.'

Hastings admits that he drinks 'slightly more than the recommended guidelines for a man per week' and 'has been known to have the odd cigarette'.

Living in Ealing, west London, he regularly visits pubs, for a 'comforting Sunday lunch' or for watching sport.

In fact it is difficult to get Hastings to talk about anything else – he reveals that he enjoys diving ('one place you know you're not going to get a media call is at 25 metres below the ocean') and cooking – but does not give much else away.

Instead, he is back on the subject of beer; this time it is the ongoing campaign to give ale a makeover, Beautiful Beer, which this month sees 'fashionistas' drinking beer in the pages of glossy women's magazine Elle.

'It's hugely exciting,' he enthuses. 'We're convincing people who are
traditionally sceptical about beer to try it – food writers are writing about it.'

But what about those who just don't like the taste? 'We could convert them,' he replies with confidence. 'We've done it many a time.'

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