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GC Amber Blake has bought in to the success of TV shopping channel QVC UK as the ideal platform from which to highlight her legal talents. Julia Berris reports
Well known for its broad range of products and uber-tanned presenters, QVC is now a global brand.
Consumers from London to Los Angeles can buy anything from food mixers to fitness machines and George Foreman grills (after watching the presentation, of course).
The US company now turns over more than $7bn (£4.28bn) a year and lists a day in December 2001 as its best performance ever, when the cheery, beaming presenters raked in more than $80m in 24 hours.
The UK operation began broadcasting to a curious audience in 1993 and it now serves more than a million customers a year.
General counsel and head of government affairs Amber Blake has a role as varied as the products demonstrated on the screen. The retail business’s needs, combined with the challenges presented by live TV broadcasts, make Blake’s job an unusual one. Her role is split between legal and compliance duties and lobbying the Government on behalf of the business.
“I’d say 80 per cent of my work is dealing with legal issues and 20 per cent is lobbying,” says Blake. “This is a totally new area. It’s been really interesting to get involved with something new and challenging for me.”
Blake’s lobbying efforts see her presenting the company’s interests to government bodies, including communications regulator Ofcom. Strict guidelines for shopping channels and consumer protection makes lobbying for the interests of QVC a key part of her role.
“I’ve had to make new contacts and get to know a whole new area,” says Blake. “It’s a very different role to my previous job. Lobbying wasn’t part of what I’d ever done before.”
Before joining QVC in 2008 Blake was senior legal counsel at Coca-Cola Enterprises. She admits that moving from Coca-Cola’s global legal team to QVC’s more focused team of five was a culture shock.
Her team includes two more lawyers (one compliance manager and one assistant) and a paralegal.
“I loved my time at Coca-Cola, but you definitely felt you were a small part of a very large organisation,” says Blake. “It’s much easier to see the impact of your actions on the business at QVC. It’s very satisfying.”
The companies are very different: while both are internationally recognised brands, QVC’s emphasis on broadcasting adds an extra dimension to the general counsel role.
All of the TV channel’s shows are live broadcasts, adding another layer of legal work for Blake and her team.
“There’s a lot of legal risk associated with live television,” says Blake. “I have access to our shows at all times so I can quickly deal with any legal issues as they come up.”
Blake opted for an in-house career after training at boutique firm Wallace & Partners, which she joined in 1998. While at Wallace Blake took a lead role advising haircare brand Tigi.
“It was very much like an in-house role,” she says. “It was fantastic experience getting so involved with one particular business and getting to know their specific legal issues and needs.”
After developing such close ties with Tigi Blake knew she had found her true vocation, and so the hunt was on for an in-house role.
Her private practice experience and time spent with a large-scale global in-house legal team at Coca-Cola has given Blake a well-rounded perspective for her job at QVC.
Although she works closely with a range of private practice firms, Blake feels the in-house team needs to be heavily involved in any legal matters, whether outside counsel has been instructed or not.
“We have a good understanding of the business. It makes sense for our team to be heavily involved,” states Blake, adding: “I wanted a new challenge, and this job has definitely given me that.”