PROFILE: Choice Champion - Jeremy Preston, Director, Food Advertising Unit

Article excerpt

For a man who has officially retired, with a nice little part-time job on the side, Food Advertising Unit (FAU) director Jeremy Preston is a very busy man.

Not that he can blame anyone but himself. Wanting to keep 'mentally and physically occupied' after he retired last year from Cereal Partners, where he was managing director, he offered his services to the Advertising Association (AA). 'When you have been in a job like the one I had been doing for 13 years, it is quite dangerous just to stop,' he says.

The timing was perfect. Set up by the AA in 1995 to provide information and research on food advertising to kids, the FAU has found itself in the eye of a storm over the past year as the government and assorted lobbyists decided child obesity was the number one priority for discussion.

His diary has been jam-packed ever since and supposed days off have evaporated.

Preston is not complaining, though. As a parent with grown-up children who has spent all his working life in the food industry, he feels well-placed to defend food advertisers' freedoms from the increasingly passionate cries for bans and restrictions.

But Preston is not an evangelist who rants and raves to win his case.

His style is far more measured and calculated. He prides himself on arguing his corner with reason and logic, in stark contrast to the emotive language employed by some in the opposing camp.

There is no doubt that he has found himself in a combative role and I suggest he must enjoy a good argument to be happy in the position. While he does volunteer that his sons say they 'never have an argument with dad because they always lose', he is too careful to confess to enjoying the fight.

Preston is confident and charming, although like many who have held senior positions in their careers, dealing with endless corporate politics over the years seems to have smoothed the personality from his speech.

So instead of talking about the clashes, he prefers to look at the common ground. 'People who don't agree with food advertising are well-intentioned and entitled to their point of view. We share the same objectives; the difference lies in emphasis. To me there is a lot of common ground: education, exercise and helping parents. But there are areas where we disagree; we must not dwell on the negatives. Let's use advertising and celebrities positively, rather than just saying that it is a bad thing, ban it,' says Preston.

But his conciliatory stance may be stretched to the limit this year, as the Health Select Committee on Obesity presents its report and the Food Standards Agency files its recommendations to the government. …

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