Profile: David Lewis, Britvic Soft Drinks

As a corporate comms specialist who relishes ‘issues management’, David Lewis is in the right place at Britvic.

The company's share price nosedived by more than 20 per cent in one day earlier this month, after it warned that 2006 earnings would be 'at the lower end' of expectations. 

As we begin our interview in an arty restaurant near London Bridge, Lewis has just finished an intense 90-minute session shepherding CEO Paul Moody through the presentation of Britvic's annual 'Soft Drinks Category Report', the company's major PR exercise to position it as market leader.

Britvic is – like all soft-drinks firms – battling declining demand for fizzy pop (around half of its portfolio) and pressure from health lobbyists.  Is dealing with the scrutiny wearisome? 'Not at all,' he responds. 'Food and drink are vital to our everyday existence, so I don't think the issue will go away.'

During Lewis's 18 months with Britvic, he says his biggest challenge has been helping to manage the 'major cultural change' brought about by its flotation last December. He declares that the challenges now include responding to concerns over 'health, wellbeing and obesity', as well as – in contrast – trends towards 'consumer indulgence'.

'What drives Britvic is innovation. We will concentrate on where we have had success: look at J2O, a massive success, and Robinson's – the ninth-largest grocery brand in the UK. Britvic is a listening company. We work closely with consumer groups and
government, and do an enormous amount of consumer research.'

The company is Britain's second-biggest soft-drinks firm behind Coca-Cola. 'Coke is a single brand – a red can of cola. But Britvic has real breadth across its portfolio – it can compensate if any part of the portfolio goes down.'

Lewis is in his element when talking about issues management – unsurprising given his CV. Prior to Britvic he worked at Birds Eye Walls, where salt content and nutritional value were in the spotlight, and where he helped promote its corporate rebrand to Unilever Ice Cream & Frozen Food.

His first PR job was at the Meat and Livestock Commission as the BSE crisis raged: 'It was a huge attraction to get involved in the genesis of what would become such a big issue. And it was a great insight into government.'

Educated at Wellingborough Grammar School, he started out at the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph. He went on to spend a decade with Emap, working for various provincial papers before returning to Northampton as newsdesk chief.

But weekend work for The Press Association whetted his appetite for a move to London. After a spell at The Sun, he joined The Guardian. 'At no time during my newspaper years did I even think of going into PR – PR people used to frustrate me and were mainly pains in the arse,' he recalls.

Later, after a spell at the Finance & Leasing Association, Lewis joined British Aerospace (now BAE Systems), where his role was to boost the company's profile in Saudi Arabia.

Ex-British Aerospace colleague Locksley Ryan, who now runs RLF Partnership, recalls: 'David did a good job for us in Saudi Arabia – we couldn't afford to have a wild card out there taking risks. He is good at environmental sensitivities and assessing the politics of things, internally and externally.'

Lewis retains a passion for Saudi Arabia, and enjoys holidays to places such as Vietnam and Venezuela – this year it is Borneo.

Married, the 51-year-old lives between two homes, in Surrey and Northants, and harbours a passion for sci-fi movies. Somewhat unexpectedly, he also enjoys 'hard house' music, and name-checks trendy DJs Lisa Lashes and Judge Jules as providers of the soundtrack on his daily commute to Britvic HQ in Chelmsford.

Lewis has three daughters, the eldest of whom is 'threatening to ditch her law degree to enter PR'. With a nod to his own experiences in the industry, he reflects: 'The law education would certainly come in handy on the issues management side'.

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