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
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
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
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
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.
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