Euro 2016 kicks-off this week, 20-years on since the glorious summer of ‘96 when England hosted a major football tournament for the first time since 1966. One person’s career was about to be catapulted on to a rapid and steep learning curve.
By Darren Caveney
June 1996. England was buzzing. Oasis and Blur were going toe-to-toe in the Britpop charts, Tony Blair and new Labour were about to change the face of British politics and England had a good football team for once. A really good one, in fact. And it was the summer of the Euro96 football tournament.
Set against the backdrop of Baddiel and Skinner's infectious'Three Lions' and streets lined with flags - the like of which we’ll not see again - the summer of 96 was a little bit special. I'd just graduated with a shiny new PR degree and had been looking for that all important first proper job in the industry. Could Euro96 offer me that chance?
Some months previous I had written (yes, an actual letter with a stamp on the envelope and everything) to the Football Association asking if there were any work experience opportunities during Euro96. I was prepared to work for peanuts as I figured this was a genuine one-off opportunity.
Some early lessons followed...
One - sometimes if you don't ask you don't get. Two - do your research. I found out the name of the personat the FA looking after Birmingham as a host city. And that is who I wrote to.
I've always believed that we create our own luck. We can make things happen by trying, by taking a chance.
But I was still slightly surprised to receive a reply from the FA (on very smart, headed paper)
I was even more surprised when I was invited for an interview. Cut a long story short I was offered a contract for the duration of the tournament. With a salary. I was so, so happy.
A funny thing happened...
Then an even funnier thing happened a few weeks later. Chappie from the FA called me to say that he had a better offer for me. UEFA's marketing partner was looking for assistant venue managers for each host stadium and was I interested? It was double the salary the FA was offering. After I had finished breaking his arm I realised that I needed to leave my degree course early to begin the contract. My course head, the fab Anne Gregory, duly obliged and off I popped.
Now for those in the know that sports marketing agency were Swiss-based and literally had a licence to print money. They held the advertising rights to the Olympic Games, the World Cup and the European Football Championships. The boss travelled by private Lear jet and allegedly had the telephone numbers of presidents and prime ministers in his Filofax. The company - ISL - would in later years become embroiled in all sorts of allegations and appear at the centre of many a murky exposé. But this was the summer of 96 and I was oblivious.
Lesson number three would soon show itself...
Working for double the money came at a price, namely working seven days a week.
And a fancy job title didn't mean you had a fancy job.
JVC were one of the 11 major sponsors and when their representatives landed at our venue they were unhappy to see that none of the TVs in the stadium carried the JVC logo. My job was to keep them happy at all costs. So I spent the next three hours walking around the stadium with a set of step ladders and black electrician's tape covering up all those offending Sony and Hitachi logos. Assistant venue manager, my bum, I thought as I covered up more than 100 TVs (and yes, I did count them)
Lessons four and five were attention to detail. And I mean absolute detail.
We spent a week lining up and checking, lining up and moving, and lining up and checking some more the positioning of the goals in relation to the advertisers hoarding behind the goals. Each sponsorwas guaranteed 9 minutes of TV exposure per game and this was compromised if a wooden post got in the way of a fast food restaurant's silky visual identity.
I spent hours and hours on a walkie talkie sat in the TV gantry checking those blasted goal posts and getting the chaps down below to move them an inch to the left, half an inch to the right. We nailed it eventually. Absolute consternation set in at kick off for the first match, though, when several balloons settled in front of said hoardings - cue panic from me and a lightening quick instruction for the balloons to be shifted quick sharp.
The match went smoothly and I relaxed a little thinking my work had been done. Wrong.
When a Pepsi ice bucket appeared from nowhere in the bar area post-match the Coke representatives were incensed. This was a major no no on a multi-million pound contract. I was very, very close to being sacked for that.
I have been decent at attention to detail ever since.
On the day of the second game the chairman of the stadium's football club thought it would be ok to bowl up and take his seat in his usual private box on match day. Err, no, actually. Now his private box featured an oil painted portrait of himself plus a mounted salmon he'd caught on his own stretch of the Tay. You can imagine how well he took it when I asked him to leave as some Dutch fans had paid to sit in his box. Money talks. He should know. Privately I quite enjoyed that.
My final lesson was to make friends with the legal department. They are invaluable friends to us comms, PR and marketing folks and to be respected.
Ahead of the third game in Birmingham I was getting my ears chewed off by the Carlsberg contingent. They were beyond angry to see a blimp carrying the logo of a rather well-known Irish stout manufacturer brazenly flying a blimp above the stadium. This was my first experience of guerrilla marketing. I was impressed.
Carlsberg demanded I had the large black and white blimp removed. Flip. What the hell was I to do?
Worried about getting the sack for real this time I made a quick call to the bosses in London and was told, very matter of fact that "airspace was not included in the contract." This hadn't been mentioned in my induction.
20 years is an age, But lessons are lessons whenever they happen...
Some of the lessons I learned that summer have stayed with me to this day and definitely helped shape my professional thinking and my approach to marketing. The world may have gone digital since but sound comms and marketing basics remain the vital cornerstone for us all.
The biggest single lesson from Euro96 was that football was actually just an incidental. The whole tournament was really just an exercise in showcasing the world's biggest brands. Knowing what makes such brands tick - and vent - was invaluable to me early in my career. I’ve always tried to take the lessons from the world’s leading brands and apply them in part to how my own organisations, and now my own business, are branded and marketed.
So thanks Coke, JVC and Carlsberg for those early verbal volleys. They really were very helpful, looking back, and an amazing first taste of comms and marketing in the big leagues.
Darren Caveney is a creative communications consultant and co-creator of comms2point0
pic by me