Paul Samuels joined AEG Europe in November 2007. In his role as Executive Vice President for Global Partnerships, he is responsible for overseeing all Sponsorship Sales, Partnership activation and Premium Seating across all AEG assets in Europe, Australia & China. AEG properties include The O2 in London, the world’s most popular music venue as well as other AEG facilities, venues, sports teams, music festivals and tours. Paul oversees a team of 100 people across these territories.
Paul had links with The O2 since 2004 when he negotiated the naming rights for the venue, while in previous roles as Head of Sponsorship at O2, which he held for 6 years. Under his role at O2, Paul was the major broker in Sponsorships such as Arsenal FC & The England Rugby Team. However it will be Paul’s creative negotiation of The O2 that will be his legacy at his time at O2. The partnership re-defined the traditional corporate sponsorship into a customer engagement opportunity, which delivers true ROI for O2.
Explain to our readers your journey, how did you end up as EVP at AEG?
I went to Middlesex University and studied Hotel Management, which was like a business degree with some modules in Hospitality. In my third year I did a placement at the Waldorf Hotel as a manager in-training and had the best experience ever. In fact, they tried to convince me to not to go back to University and stay with them. In the end, I went back to University but worried about only having Hotel Management on my degree, so I changed two modules in my final year so that I ended up with a 2:1 in Management and HR. I really liked the idea of working in events, so after I graduated I picked up the yellow pages and looked for event companies in London. I started at a little events company in Primrose Hill that did some pretty big events, such as the annual conferences for the Bar Council and the Law Society. They were keen to change the format and make it more of a family affair, so they created something called the ‘Law Festival’ in Disneyland Paris. A train would take everyone down there, the lawyers would go to the sessions in the day and the other family members went to Disneyland. Then, instead of a boring corporate dinner, the whole family could go to a massive event in the evening. To me, it completely revolutionised that conference. The only problem was, half the Law Society loved it, and the other half hated it and wanted to go back to the old way.
After a while, I bumped into an old friend who mentioned his company was looking for an Events Manager. They had great offices in Mayfair and the CEO called to offer me the job on the way home after my interview. After a while, I followed the CEO to a company called Genie; a startup owned by BT. As their Head of Sponsorship we did things like sponsoring the S Club 7 tour which was great fun. Then BT Cellnet and Genie merged to create O2. By the age of 26, I was Head of Sponsorship and Events for the whole of O2. Overall I was there for six years.
One of my favourite campaigns during my time there was when England won the Rugby World Cup in Australia. At the time, we weren’t even sure England was going to stay in the tournament, so we had to spend our activation money wisely. We decided to focus on the first couple of weeks – that way, you’re getting a good hit and it doesn’t matter so much if the team gets knocked out early.
There were so many restrictions around branding, so we had to be smart about getting the O2 association without ambush marketing the Rugby World Cup rights. We only had one day of access to the team, so we came up with this great idea of creating a beach party where people could win a ticket to Australia to party with the English Rugby Team. We got loads of PR, including a great story about a prizewinner who’d come alone. She and her fiancée had planned to get wed in Australia, but he was posted to Iraq. Sensing a PR opportunity, I found out where he was stationed, called the Army in London and spoke to their PR person. Not long after, I got a call from the Captain in Iraq saying they could release him, but only as far as Kuwait. So we booked him the extra flight to Australia, and the happy couple managed to tie the knot! All the other prize-winners in their branded O2 shirts were the guests, and the press absolutely loved it. All in all, it was a great campaign.
The first thing we do is set KPI’s with the client. It’s important to understand what success looks like to them.
Not long after that, I got a call from AEG, who asked if O2 would be interested in sponsoring the former Millennium Dome. When I said we weren’t interested, they must have realised that no-one knew who AEG was. They were persistent, and organised a trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I went over there and just fell in love with AEG, and knew I wanted to work for them. I also knew that what they were going to build at the Millennium Dome could be game-changing. I went to the CMO and said “I really think we should look at this. Even if we don’t do it, if it’s a success and someone says that we should've done that, we can at least say that we looked at it, and said ‘No’ for these reasons.”
I hired The Bonham Group, who knew all about naming rights, and the more we worked on it, the more I realised it was something we had to do. I went back to O2’s new CEO, and to his credit, he just said ‘I get it.’ It wasn’t all plain sailing – I lobbied each board member individually, and although they loved it, it failed when it went to the vote. In the end, I went back to AEG and renegotiated parts of the deal which were contentious. It turned out that O2 was in the process of selling to Telefonica, and didn’t want a huge sponsorship deal hanging over them. Finally, in 2005 the Chairman of the board approved the deal.
By this point, The Bonham Group was getting lots of enquiries about naming rights, decided to establish a European base in London. And although I was only 30, they picked me as their CEO. It was hard leaving just as The O2 was going to open, but the opportunity was too big to pass up. Working for The Bonham Group felt like working for a start-up. It was just me and a phone! Before long, I was hiring staff and getting involved in football. But even though we were hitting out targets, there were a few clues that things weren’t looking so good.
Around this time, I bumped into the CEO of AEG who wondered why I’d gone to The Bonham Group. A week later, he made an offer to buy the UK operation – within the year, the rest of the group had gone bankrupt.
Eventually, I took over the sales of AEG UK and before long was overseeingAEG global partnerships for the international team (currently, Europe, China and Australia), where I have been for 9 year.. We look after the sales for all our properties - everything from sponsorships and naming rights, to premium seating, corporate suites and VIP areas for all our venues and teams. Then there’s AEG Live, which covers festivals like Hyde Park and music tours.
One of the things that we're constantly talking about in live comms is global consistency. As Head of Global Partnerships, how do you ensure consistency across all your geographies?
As I say to our American colleagues: In America, Yes, it’s a huge area, but it’s all the same language, the same currency, and more or less the same culture. Over here in Europe, it’s different languages, different currency, different cultures and different ways of working. So we have to be very sympathetic to the way everyone works locally, whilst ensuring that the central team maintains overall consistency. We have weekly calls with all the teams, and an annual conference, which this year was n Sweden, that we use for team-building. And it does make a difference. We have a great team ethic, and every member in our teams feels part of the family. That’s really important to me because, if someone is buying something from AEG, they should have the same quality customer experience right across the company. Equally, when artists play in one of our venues, they should have the best experience, the best backstage area, so they’ll want to play our venues again. The same goes for sales – which is why we do global deals with brands like Coca-Cola or American Express, who work with us because they know what they’re going to get.
How do you ensure that you’re not tripping over one another and you’re saying the right thing, at the right time, to the right person?
We have a CRM system here, which gives the sales team access to every conversation that’s taking place globally with any brand, copies of the contracts and all pertinent information. We also have local meetings every week, so everyone knows who's calling who, and that enables me to fill in any gaps.
What methods do you use for ensuring that you are delivering value to your various global partners?
The first thing we do is set KPI’s with the client. It’s important to understand what success looks like to them. Sometimes we have to really push them to define that, because in three years’ time, I want to turn around and say ‘Have we delivered or not?’ We have an evaluation team who also help evaluate the deal on a regular basis. Our evaluation team, though owned by AEG, are use to working for 3rd parties, like football clubs so are use to giving independent values to our properties. Plus, there’s lots of research and scoring that clients want to implement and we measure against all of them. The other key thing is progressing the venue. If someone buys into a property, that’s great, but how do you develop the property in order to get more money out of the partner in the future? Take The O2 for example - we’re currently building a designer outlet village to be completed in 2018, which will take us from 9 million people a year to 14 million. Now other brands are seeing that as a new opportunity, so they want to stay and renew because they understand the long-term value.
How do you ensure that you are ahead of the curve when it comes to developing relationships with the various properties (sports, music etc) that you offer to your partners?
The first thing we do, when a new property comes available, is sit down and consider what we can sell. If a soft drinks partner thinks there’s an opportunity, our first port of call will be people like Coca-Cola, since they’re existing partners. But we also have activation and account teams who work for those clients, and they’re always coming up with ideas. Their own agencies will also come up with ideas, but we never say no, even if they seem unworkable. To get that renewal, you’ve got to get someone to say ‘I can’t give this up’. Because you also know, when it comes to budget time, a CFO is likely to say ‘How can we save money? Can we get rid of that sponsorship?’ and we need to make it so integral that they’d regret passing up that sponsorship opportunity.
What does the future hold for AEG?
Well, when I first met AEG they had nothing in Europe apart from an idea of doing something out of the Millennium Dome. They only had a couple of venues in LA and Vegas. It’s now the 10 year anniversary of The O2 next June, and AEG’s Europe portfolio includes The O2, the The SSE Arena Wembley, The Eventim Apollo and a partnership for sponsorship sales with The SSE Hydro in Glasgow. There’s Barclaycard presents British Summer Time in Hyde Park, the Accor Hotels Arena in Paris, Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, the Tele2 and Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. The fact is, if this has all come about in the last ten years, the potential for the next ten is mind-blowing. It wasn’t that long ago that naming rights didn’t even exist. Now no-one globally has sold more naming rights than AEG.