Pepsi and Coca-Cola Lobby Shops Try New Recipes

Posted September 10, 2010 at 5:56pm

For nearly 20 years, Galen Reser has been the face of PepsiCo Inc. in Washington, D.C. But now Pepsi and its biggest competitor, Coca-Cola Co., are bringing in new lobbyists to lead their operations in the nation’s capital.

Reser is moving on, and Coca-Cola’s office head, Bryan Anderson, is departing for Southern Co., where he will lead the energy company’s lobbying team.

The internal overhauls come as the industry is facing a slew of public policy issues at the state, federal and international levels, including child obesity and nutrition initiatives as well as scrutiny at the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies. Soda was also the target of a new tax that some Members floated to help pay for the health care bill.

“The issues that our company is facing and our industry is facing have just exploded over the last five years,” Reser said.

While Pepsi and Coca-Cola are fierce competitors in the marketplace, both Reser and Anderson said the companies maintain a collaborative relationship in Washington that helps them push their shared agenda on Capitol Hill. Both firms are huge players in the industry’s main trade group, the American Beverage Association.

“I think it’s unbelievable that the industry has worked extremely well together,” Anderson said. “We’re sort of fierce competitors in so many spaces and in so many ways, but in this public policy space we’ve always worked well together.”

While Reser will no longer serve as the lead in-house lobbyist at PepsiCo, he is not giving up the influence game altogether. He will work as of counsel at the boutique lobby shop C2 Group, which has long counted PepsiCo as a client.

Elizabeth Avery is taking over for Reser. Avery, who has worked for PepsiCo on international policy in New York for six years, previously worked at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and at ConAgra Foods.

While Reser focused primarily on domestic issues, Avery will continue to handle PepsiCo’s international portfolio, said Dan Bryant, the company’s senior vice president of global public policy and government affairs. Avery will be vice president of global public policy and head of the Washington office.

“The time is right to see Washington as a platform to support our worldwide needs, and Elizabeth is perfectly situated to do this,” Bryant said.

The beverage company opened a Washington outpost after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when commuting to and from New York became too cumbersome, Reser said. Since then, the company’s inside-the-Beltway footprint has grown. The company now has three full-time Washington lobbyists.

PepsiCo also has increased its lobbying spending. Last year, the company reported $9.2 million in lobbying expenditures, according to Senate disclosure reports. It has on retainer Russell & Barron, the Duberstein Group, the International Business-Government Counsellors and C2.

Over the past five years, PepsiCo has also increased its foreign public affairs presence. While the U.S. is still the largest market for the beverage industry, both Pepsi and Coca-Cola are working to expand their brands abroad. In addition to focusing on typical government relations outreach, PepsiCo has moved to influence business and political leaders in foreign countries with dozens of public affairs personnel on the ground.

Bryant said that the company will review its lobbying operation with Avery at the helm.

“We don’t take the composition of our team as settled — ever,” he said. “It’s constantly being reviewed. Now that Elizabeth is the new captain, undoubtedly she will be continuing to review the optimal arrangement.”

At Coca-Cola, Matt Echols is taking over as head of the Washington office. Echols has worked at Coca-Cola for more than a decade. Most recently, he was the company’s point man on state legislative issues. Anderson said he expects the transition to be seamless.

In addition to Anderson’s departure, Barclay Resler, who has been with Coca-Cola since 1980, is retiring next year. Resler opened Coca-Cola’s Washington government affairs office in 1987. He now works out of the company’s Atlanta headquarters.

Coca-Cola has seven in-house advocates in Washington, and the company spent $2.9 million on lobbying in 2009, according to Senate disclosure reports. Coca-Cola spent $1.2 million in the first half of this year. Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, Hurt, Norton & Associates, LMP Strategies and Prime Policy Group are all on retainer.

“Things are on the absolute right track,” Anderson said.