To The Marketing Society for an Under the Spotlight evening to hear Barry Hearn speak about his career as a sports promoter. Great fun and full of insight and useful lessons about life and business
His career started by accident – he was FD of a fashion firm-which he had joined from KPMG (very respectable!)- and had bought a snooker halls only for the property value and as a way of diversifying. Then the BBC televised snooker in colour,the snooker halls filled with budding Doug Mountjoys and he found he had lucked into a brilliant investment.
His big insight was to market the sport as a soap opera. This was a sport with personalities and recognisable faces-whose agonies we see in close up on TV- and Barry had many of the big ones signed up to him. It meant he could co-create the characters with the star players.
Steve Davis was boring Steve Davis, Tony Meo was temperamental and italian,Jimmy White was lightening fast , Dennis Taylor was loquacious and Irish, Terry Griffiths was Welsh and therefore prone to burst into song and so on.
These characters were not untrue, just exaggerated versions of their true selves-each player effectively had a platform for storytelling and a persona ideally suited to the needs of journalists who need to fill their papers with stories about people we recognise.
The current talk is all about the power of storytelling driven by the need to create following in social media- but Barry was well ahead of this curve by about three decades.
Barry Hearn presents himself as a lovable and entertaining rascal ( which of course is a true version of himself)
But there is another side- a marketing visionary who understood very early that sport is also about the appeal of character development and storytelling who has never lost sight of the need to give entertainment to the paying punters and value to his sponsors.
An excellent do by the Marketing Society
Barry Hearn certainly disproves the old adage about accountants being boring.