Job Title: Public Affairs and Communications ManagerName: James Lowman

Company: Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)

Professional Qualification(s):
11 GCSE’s, 4 A Levels, 2:1 Degree in Government & Politics

Degree studied at: 
University of EssexBrief job description
I have responsibility for ACS’ political work, and for all communications: newsletter, website, Yearbook, printed materials. I am also in charge of our Retail Crime Forums and I am involved in our News Group and our work on Personnel and Training.

My career so far…
This is effectively my first ‘proper job’. Prior to this I worked briefly for a market research company as a report writer.

What does your job involve in a typical day? 
We receive regular updates on political issues facing us from our political advisors, and in conjunction with our Public Affairs Executive and our advisors, we react as necessary. This may be either through further research, letters and submissions to the political audiences we are dealing with, or through press reaction, which usually involves me drafting or co-drafting a press release. In some cases I appear on radio or TV to put the ACS position on a particular subject.

To support our written communications, we regularly hold meetings with civil servants and others in the political process. There are also many semi-political issues we deal with like News and the Post Office which require meetings with other interested companies and other trade associations, and it is part of my job to maintain a contact with the relevant organisations.

My responsibilities on the Retail Crime Forum and other events can be time consuming, as I research and book speakers and the venues, secure sponsorship, and manage the day itself.

With all of the above work, I operate within a Committee structure, so communication out to our members is critical. I am regularly in touch by email or phone with the Chairs of Committees.

My communications responsibilities include the promotion and management of our web site with an external agency. I aim to update the site at least twice a week, although I do not want it to be a ‘live or ‘news’ site. I am responsible for our monthly newsletter, where I work with out PR advisor to develop content. I carry out some of the writing duties for the newsletter. I also take responsibility for our Yearbook, which is produced by trade publishers, but in which we have to monitor content and advise on new editorial ideas. We regularly have events and initiatives which require printed promotion, and I commission and approve print work for brochures, booking forms and recruitment materials.

Finally, most days I talk to a member of the trade press about a current issue, and we try to maintain good relations with all the trade media in our sector.

So a typical day incorporates juggling these responsibilities. I am normally in the office for three full days a week, and out at meetings for an average two days a week. My time in the office is very much spent at the computer managing these issues by e-mail or the phone. Workload varies, and while there is never any excuse to be doing nothing (the opportunities of the job are endless), I can vary from working relatively short days (pretty much 9-5) to working much longer hours.

What do like most about your job?
The variety of tasks and venues for my work, and the fact that I deal with some very senior and able people in a wide variety of companies, from graphic designers to managing directors or retail companies. I get to use my skill, and I have enjoyed a very steep learning curve in this job.

What skills are required in your job?
The ability to write is not totally essential for someone in my role, but the fact that I am confident at producing copy for a variety of communication materials is an advantage. It is important to have an eye for detail. It is also essential to be reasonable computer literate and if I was more so I would be able to develop in some areas, like the web site, more proactively. More important than anything else is the ability to distil arguments and ideas and ‘sell’ them to lots of different types of people.

How many people work for you?
One Public Affairs executive reports to me and we work closely together. I am able to draw on administrative resource in the office as well. I also work closely with three consultants who don’t work for me as such, but who report to me in the first instance. So in answer to the question – 1!

What is your advice to people looking for a career in the food and grocery industry?
I am perhaps a step detached from most careers in the industry because I’m in a non-profit making body and I don’t perform a usual role as such. The only advice I would be prepared to give is not to be afraid of thinking long term and broadbrush – and of telling your bosses about your vision of the market in the future. Everyone is guessing to a point about the future of the food and grocery industry, and if your instincts tell you that an opportunity may be in a particular direction, then you are probably right.