01 August 1997

A CONCLUSION SO FOREGONE that few believed it could actually happen saw M&C Saatchi inherit the £16m Millennium account - or to give it its newly-minted cumbrous moniker - the New Millennium Experience Company. News of the ‘win' caused uproar among Labour's left wing who are incensed that the agency servicing the Tory party (and creators of the notorious ‘demon eyes' poster) have been awarded the government project. There is also general disquiet in adland at the way the entire pitch process was managed. When the tender was announced in early July, agencies were given just one week to put forward proposals and only ten responded, compared with the fifty or so who might have been expected to do so. Nor was the winning tender scrutinised by the Independent Advisory Committee on Advertising - a body supposed to oversee the awarding of all government advertising business. Committee members were told that the NMEC did not need to consult them. And the appointment was formally approved by Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson from whom - uniquely - no further comment was forthcoming. Other agencies who pitched include Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and TBWA Simons Palmer. [A few unconnected facts for students of coincidence: (1) The chairman of NMEC is Robert Ayling, also chief executive of British Airways; (2) BA is the major sponsor of NMEC, having generously donated £6m of its shareholders cash to the project; (3) M&C Saatchi holds a long-term lease on BA's ad account; (4) Two M&CS directors, Bill Muirhead and Jeremy Sinclair, each with a shareholding of 20% in their employer, were closely associated at board level with NMEC on an unpaid basis until June. It's the surprises in life that give it such spice!]

So desperate for commercial support is the Mandelson/Ayling/Saatchi folly that Microsoft, a well-known standard-bearer of white-hot British technology, is being invited to sponsor part of the Union Jack-waving exhibition. The Seattle-based global giant may sponsor a section of the show called Will the Book Exist in the Future? The putative deal was defended by NMEC creative director Stephen Bayley, who believes Microsoft would be an ideal sponsor for an event which 'is about Britain's place in the world'. He said it would be 'foolish to be parochial', citing as a tenuous rationale Microsoft's plans to set-up a small research facility in Cambridge. NMEC is charged with raising £150m in commercial sponsorships towards its £758m cost.

Kevin Johnson joins NMEC as commercial director. A former vice-president of Swiss sports marketing consultancy ISL, Johnson was involved in the marketing of Euro 96, the Olympic gymnastics and the World Cup. At NMEC he will be responsible for marketing and advertising, as well as sponsorship, licensing, TV rights, sales and ticketing.