Profile: Terrence Collis, Food Standards Agency

We don’t do biscuits here,’ says Food Standards Agency (FSA) director of comms Terrence Collis, offering PRWeek mineral water and a plate of fruit. ‘We practise what we preach.’

En route to his spacious office in Holborn's architecturally splendid Aviation House, the floor buzzes with comms staff surrounded by recycling bins and healthy-eating slogans. And Collis, a trim 52-year-old, takes the stairs rather than the lift.

While he has been in the job for less than a fortnight, he is already settling in. 'I've spent a long time out of the loop,' he admits, referring to the period since his redundancy from the top comms role at Lloyds TSB. 'I've just had my first board meeting in over a year.'

Collis is fortunate in that he arrives at a time when healthy eating is high on the national agenda and British food-buying habits are improving.

'You can't pick up a paper at the moment without it containing an
issue that concerns the FSA,' he notes. 'By communicating properly we can help British health – and save the nation a fortune.'

But to achieve these aims he will have to smooth the often-tetchy relationship between the FSA and the food and drink industry, which has baulked at the FSA's proposed traffic-light system for labelling food according to its healthiness.

Collis is a fan of the traffic-light proposal and plans to extol its virtues. But he adds that it is not the role of the FSA to attack the food and drink industry, but to 'liaise' with it and allow consumers to make 'considered and simple choices'. With a relaxed authority he seems well equipped to mediate on health issues that have stirred
the passions of business leaders and the public.

Since leaving Lloyds TSB last April, Collis has since been on 'sabbatical' to spend more time with his family and engage further in an extensive range of charity work.

Collis has spent 25 years actively involved in the voluntary sector and is a trustee and board member of the British Red Cross Society, a member of its ethical review committee, and an active member of the Samaritans.

Philanthropy aside, Collis is a shrewd operator who cut his teeth in the evolving financial comms industry of the 1980s. 'During my time at [defence contractor and then Rolls-Royce owner] Vickers, I was part of an industry without any particular comms heritage,' Collis recalls. 'We had to figure out and establish good comms practice as we went along – it was great to be at the forefront of that.'

In the early 1990s, he left for the Lowe Bell Financial PR consultancy. He says: 'Working for clients such as Hanson, British Airways and P&O, you discover how much of a difference financial comms can make.'

A corporate comms role beckoned at National Westminster Bank where Collis endured a hostile takeover from the Royal Bank of Scotland. He describes it as his biggest failure.

'It was depressing because it went on for so long,' Collis remembers. 'I'd been given a bread-making machine by my wife at the start of the bid and said I'd bring in a loaf for my team every morning until it ended. It lasted six months – that's a lot of loaves.'

As a keen cricketer Collis is used to long, drawn-out games. And with a Southampton FC season ticket, he is used to campaigns ending in disappointment. But he takes his sport seriously. During Collis's sabbatical his son, 15, and daughter, 13, even joined him on scuba-diving excursions.

So given his new role, will Collis change the way he and his family eat? 'The salt campaign [featuring a giant slug] certainly affected me; there are high levels of salt in so many surprising things,' he says. 'This is a great organisation because it's generally trying to do good things based on good science. I've promoted organisations on far more shaky platforms than this one.'

Collis certainly appears confident in his new job, but there is no sign of any bread machines: 'None baked yet,' he grins. 'But if I do they will be low salt.'

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