Chris Shaw tended to keep quiet about his passion for Formula One motor-racing while at Universal McCann - his reticence was best for all concerned, he jokes, in a media industry where the tacit understanding is that you are either into football or you are gay.
But it can now safely be revealed that Shaw, who departed from his role as the executive vice-president of Universal McCann EMEA back in January, now has his dream job - and one for which he is uniquely qualified. He has joined 19 Entertainment to work for a new client, the Honda F1 Racing Team - and, of course, its drivers, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello.
A significant part of what he will be doing for Honda will involve the development of branded content opportunities. Which will not be an entirely alien concept, given the fact that, during his reign as Universal's European network boss, he championed the development of the agency's expertise in areas such as advertiser-funded programming and branded content.
And there is bags of potential in F1. The teams themselves have been adept at signing sponsorship deals - after all, one of the abiding images of the sport is the number of sponsors' logos plastered all over the cars and the drivers' suits; but, to date, no-one has really tried to take this relationship to a new level. That will now be Shaw's responsibility where Honda is concerned.
At present, its lead team sponsor is British American Tobacco, but the European ban on tobacco advertising has compelled Honda to find a new lead partner. Shaw's job will be to find ways to showcase that partnership in both the editorial and advertising content of mainstream media.
And we are not just talking here about using advertiser money to commission reality-type shows about the life and times of an F1 team or its drivers.
19 Entertainment sources point out it has always sought innovative ways to get entertainment brands into the public eye - for instance, persuading the then Channel 5 to use the Spice Girls as a launch icon.
Shaw is not 19 Entertainment's first capture from advertising. In 1998, Charles Garland, the group development director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, joined to develop commercial opportunities - such as endorsements and TV commercials - for the company's artists, including Victoria Beckham.
Shaw's arrival may also confirm the seriousness of 19 Entertainment's push into the sports sector generally. In 2003, it took on representation of Victoria and David Beckham and it is now on the shortlist to represent the commercial interests of the England football team in the 2006 World Cup.
1. The pop impresario Simon Fuller launched 19 Entertainment in 1985. Formerly an A&R man at Chrysalis Records, Fuller was instrumental in propelling a Vietnam War song, 19 by Paul Hardcastle, to the top of the charts. He left soon after and named his new company after the hit.
2. But he really hit the headlines when he became the manager of the Spice Girls at the height of their fame. He followed that by creating and managing S Club 7. In the UK alone, he claims to have been involved in the creation of 109 number-one singles and 87 chart-topping albums.
3. His first foray into sport came in the late 90s. The relationship between the worlds of showbiz and football was already flourishing but David Beckham's marriage to the Spice Girl Victoria Adams made it even more explicit and crossovers became more common. So it was uncontroversial when, in 1999, Fuller became involved in engineering the transfer of Steve McManaman from Liverpool to Real Madrid.
4. In recent years, Fuller has become best known for perhaps his biggest success to date - the creation in 2001 of the Pop Idol TV format. It has since run in more than 32 countries around the world, including the UK and US, and has generated worldwide revenues (spot advertising, sponsorship, merchandising, telephone voting and music sales) in excess of $1 billion.
The shows have created many hugely successful pop music acts.
5. In 2005, 19 Entertainment was acquired by CKX, a Nasdaq-quoted company created by the US rock tour promoter Bob Sillerman after he acquired Elvis Presley Enterprises and Sports Entertainment Enterprises, which he subsequently merged. Fuller was paid around $200 million in cash and shares but was retained in his role of chief executive.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
BRANDED CONTENT SPECIALISTS
- In an era when all but a few TV genres are increasingly consumed on a time-shifted basis, the relationship between live events (both sporting and showbiz) and star personalities will become an ever more important driver of commercial TV audiences.
- A media practitioner such as Shaw can bring his understanding of how brands work in different media to the raw materials he will find at 19 Entertainment and Honda.
- Those who are convinced that branded content is the future of marketing communications will be keen to see him succeed.
- Shaw should have no trouble getting through to the advertisers that matter. Even those who find F1 boring must acknowledge its ability to conjure up wonderfully glamorous and aspirational images.
- Honda F1 would make a desirable marketing partner under any circumstance - but now there is the added attraction of (hopefully) breaking new ground, there will be a lot of valuable experience to be gained for the right advertiser.