David Paterson, UK corporate relations director at beer and cider producer Heineken, talks about the dynamic sector he works in and the challenges it presents. He also talks about the the differences between working in politics, on FMCG brands and why he moved in-house.
What’s it like to represent alcohol brands?
It’s great fun to work in the beer, cider and pub business. We’re all about enjoyment of life. When I tell people what I do, I always get great feedback. Of course, working for a beer and cider company brings huge responsibility. We take that seriously. While the majority of consumers enjoy our brands responsibly, some don’t. That’s why we work with partners like Addaction to tackle alcohol related harm and are using the power of our brands to make responsible consumption cool though our Heineken Moderate Drinkers Wanted campaign.
What’s unique about Heineken?
We’re the world’s most international brewer, but what I love is that despite our scale, we’re still a family business. We’ve been in business for more than 150 years and we’re clear we want to be around for another 150. The Heineken family still own the company and I think this helps us take a balanced and long term view.
Here in the UK, we’re unique within the Heineken group. Everyone knows the name above the door, Heineken – but we also have Foster’s, Kronenbourg 1664, Sol, Birra Moretti, Desperados and Tiger to name but a few.
We are also the pioneers of cider! With Strongbow and Bulmers, we use 30% of all the apples grown in the UK to make our ciders in Herefordshire. Not many people know that we take apples from around 10,000 acres of orchard.
Put that together with the 1,100 pubs we own through our Star Pubs & Bars business right across the UK and we have an offer that no one else does.
Your role is UK-based, but do you need to keep an international outlook/perspective?
We get real freedom within a clear framework which is great and allows us to innovate and take the right choices for the UK market. However, the UK is a beacon market globally. UK policy, legislation, innovation and consumer trends travel far and wide. Of course the UK media also has global influence. Brexit means that we remain very much front of mind. For all those reasons we work really closely with our global colleagues and with other Heineken companies around the world to coordinate campaigns and share best practice.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
Beer, cider, pubs….hmmmm, that’s a tricky one! What really makes me proud to work for Heineken is the chance to make a positive impact in communities. We recently celebrated ten years of partnership with Addaction – it’s changing lives through the Right Turn project we support helping veterans through recovery. We’ve also created 100 community orchards across the UK through our Helping Britain Blossom project.
Most recently we partnered with Neighbourly, a community charity platform which helps us connect with projects local to our sites. Being a good neighbour and improving our local communities is very important.
You used to work in politics, how does FMCG differ?
They are very different working environments and it took a bit of getting used to! I loved my time in parliament and working on campaigns but it is genuinely non-stop. It’s so hard to raise your head from the day to day. Here there’s greater flexibility and we are better able to be proactive, take a longer term view and choose where we focus our time. That said I think business has a lot to learn from politics. It’s too easy to be glib about politicians. My view is some of the best campaigning minds in the country work in politics. As transparency increases and social media democratises public spaces, business is going to need to learn more from how political campaigns target, change and lead opinion.
How does in-house compare to agency/consultancy work?
There’s no better start to a career in comms than working in an agency. You get to work with great people and see a real breadth of clients and issues. But I much prefer in-house and the depth of knowledge and responsibility that comes with it. The other difference is the exposure to the commercial side of the business and decision making which is very hard to do when you’re a consultant. Of course the challenge in-house is to continue to reflect the outside in, retain perspective and not fall in to the trap of believing your own hype.
How do you switch-off from work in the evening or on the weekends?
If I’m honest I’m pretty bad at switching-off in the evenings, but I try hard to keep my weekends as work free as possible. I’ve got a three and a seven year old, so they keep me busy! They give me perspective and for me it’s about not missing the simple pleasures that come with a kick about in the park or scrambling around the beach. The chance doesn’t come as often as I’d like these days, but scientists now say it’s hard to beat a cold beer in a great pub with old friends and I’m happy to agree with that!
- Are you working in an interesting or unusual PR role? Do you have strong views on the industry that you want to share with the Gorkana community? If so, please contact Emily Andrews.