Friends thought I was bordering on the suicidal when I told them,
in June 1997, I was taking the role of commercial director at the
Having accepted the job and resigned from my then role in sports
marketing at ISL in Switzerland, we faced the double trauma of house
hunting in London while the new government debated whether the project
would go ahead.
’Dump the Dome, Tone’, the tabloids implored the prime minister.
So it was with a huge sigh of relief that we boarded our return flight
to Zurich and read the headline: ’Blair gives green light to Dome’.
Arriving at the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), I inherited a
short section in the business plan that suggested we needed to generate
pounds 150m net of cost of sales and that there would be a team of
I set about creating the necessary structure (ultimately, the commercial
department had over 30 people), while also developing commercial
strategy and recruiting a team.
The reality was that the collective aspirations of my senior management
team colleagues and the government, added up to a capital and operating
budget of pounds 758m. The difference between lottery funding and
projected gate receipts from 12 million visitors equalled commercial
revenue. Well, that was the theory.
I remember my first board meeting, when I explained to Bob Ayling and
colleagues that there was no way we could do 150 deals of pounds 1m each
because there was insufficient time and value in the project. There was
probably not even time to do 50 deals at pounds 3m, but maybe we could
convince the market that the cost of entry was pounds 12m. Twelve
sponsors at pounds 12m each would make our lives a little simpler.
I think I ’oversold’ the idea to the board, as they seemed to believe
me. The only challenge was to do it.
There had been some initial indications of support in principle under
the last government, but that was another time and another place, so we
were effectively starting over.
The Conservatives had put forward the notion that whole industry
sectors, such as motor manufacturing, might co-operate to produce a
single exhibition zone. But close scrutiny led us to conclude that this
was fuelled by negative psychology, with brand owners potentially being
’corralled’ for fear of loss, rather than any real desire to be part of
Britain’s millennium celebrations.
Our principles were simple and borrowed from the world of sports
marketing: category exclusivity was key, the Millennium Dome and its
associated National Programme must offer ’investors’ a real point of
difference over their competitors, not a ’me-too statement’.
Over nine months, we moved from the prospect of a consortium led by the
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to a massive commitment by
Ford to become presenting sponsor of the Journey Zone, developed by Gary
Withers of Imagination.
This was supported by an initiative to allow schools and colleges to
design the car of the future.
Ford’s commitment said much about its desire to preserve market
leadership and be perceived as having ’fabric of the nation’ status but,
more importantly, it would be leveraged internally to its 70,000
employees and externally with a limited edition Millennium range and
advertising. You may have noticed Ford Transit’s ’Backbone of Britain’
Each of the sponsors invested for different reasons. We knew that Tim
Mason at Tesco was in the market for the next generation of Computers
for Schools, Tesco’s most successful sales promotion, having provided
34,000 ’free’ computers for schools.
We suggested combining our resources to more than double the impact and
so Tesco SchoolNet 2000 was born, allowing every school in Britain to
create a digital Domesday Book, with the Dome’s Learning Zone as the
Marks & Spencer carried out research among staff and customers and
concluded that children must be the central theme for its millennial
Niels de Vos, NMEC’s general manager, sponsorship, was the inspiration
behind ’Children’s Promise’, the simple idea that M&S should help the
nation to donate their last hour’s earnings of the millennium to
This British trait of charitable giving in turn provided a logical link
with M&S’ association with the National Identity Zone in the Dome.
McDonald’s had little need to invest in further sponsorship, with its
commitments to the World Cup, Euro 2000 and the Olympics. But
discussions with the company produced a scheme to put McDonald’s at the
heart of millennial celebrations in 1000 communities around Britain.
McDonald’s ’Our Town Story’ will allow children in Britain to ’own the
Dome’ for a day, as they tell their story. This will be supported by
educational material, from the construction of the Dome to planning a
visit. Add Britain’s biggest McDonald’s restaurant in the piazza and you
have a compelling business proposition.
From relationship marketing to cause related, incremental business
opportunities to product showcasing, we explored the project’s every
facet. By June 3 this year, we announced pounds 157m worth of
Kevin Johnson is now senior vice-president, business development for
Octagon, and a member of The Marketing Society.