Profile: Caroline Hollings

Caroline Hollings runs agency B-Live where she has access to a global network of companies and thousands of staff through parent outfit Publicis. She tells Mike Fletcher about her musical past and how she got Pavarotti to sing for his supper.

When B-Live managing director Caroline Hollings was preparing for the 2001 Safeway Picnic with Pavarotti in Hyde Park, she was surprised to be told that the legendary tenor could not be let anywhere near the colour purple as it signifies death in opera circles.

So she was somewhat taken aback when his management refused to allow him to host the £600-a-ticket after-show gala dinner because of flowers that were - to most people's eyes - blue.

"The marquee had been transformed into a lush garden complete with waterfalls but they were convinced that some flowers were too purple for Pavarotti. We had to fill a skip with them at the back of the marquee," says Hollings. "Pavarotti saw the skip and asked why it was full of flowers. I explained that we'd removed them because they were purple. He replied: 'These are not purple, they are beautiful baby blue.'"

Hollings had spent five years as an account director for Triangle Group at the time of the 2001 Safeway event. The company now comprises Triangle, Lime and B-Live. In 2000, a US term, 'Retailtainment' was on everyone's lips and Hollings was asked to develop the concept, starting with an Italian promotion for Safeway.

"The budget was spent on recreating Italian regions in supermarket aisles and re-enacting 1960s crime caper The Italian Job with the Mini Club of Great Britain at stores, when the client asked to have either Michael Caine or Pavarotti to launch the promotion. In the most flippant manner, I retorted that if they wanted Pavarotti, why didn't we just stick him in Hyde Park and make him sing for his supper and sell tickets from supermarket check-outs. It all went very quiet but they then asked me to develop the idea."

The self-styled "Leeds lass" realised she was on to a winner when Coca-Cola and Foster's offered her huge sums to be involved. "I made both brands carry out Italian promotions in the run-up to the event to justify their presence," she says.

Hollings launched B-Live off the back of Pavarotti and shortly after Triangle was bought out by Publicis Groupe, the world's fourth largest communications company. The 31-year-old organiser now has access to brands through a host of sister companies including Saatchi & Saatchi and a reach to 38,000 Publicis employees in 109 countries.

"B-Live was a hybrid of my experiences as a producer and a 19-year-old deputy head of music for local radio in Leeds, where I staged parties in the park with 22 acts for two years," she says. "We work autonomously from the other Publicis companies but we can draft in help and we often get work via referrals."

The most recent referral came via Publicis chairman Maurice Levy, who convinced the French ambassador to commemorate 100 years of the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain.

"It couldn't be funded by government monies so they pulled together a group of sponsors. My clients were the British embassy, the French embassy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its equivalent in France. By the time the funds were released I had only seven weeks to stage the event," remembers Hollings.

Rendezvous 100, the resulting free concert took place at Wembley Arena on 18 September and attracted 15,000 people to watch UK acts including Liberty X, Lulu and Blue, plus French stars including rock band Manu Lanvin and Jane Birkin. According to Hollings, the event was a "tour de force" of French and English artists interacting - with no calls to ban the colour purple.

HOLLINGS ON ...

Events held in Trafalgar Square ... It could be the entertainment centre of London. We staged a David Gray concert in August 2003 for 14,000 people and the Met Police went on record saying the event was better organised than Robbie Williams' Knebworth concert.

Brand-owned events ... A brand can sponsor an event and achieve brand awareness across something that already exists but if they own it, they're actually creating it to fit with the brand's values. By taking the risk as a promoter brands can get directly to their target market.

The Millennium Dome ... When it's cooked and ready I'll use it for large-scale brand events, but I'm always on the look out for unique spaces. It won't be unique for long after it opens but it will have an appeal.

The London 2012 Olympics bid ... A successful bid for the Games will result in a host of brands wishing to own events. The number two brands that will not be taking sponsorship of the Olympics, they're the ones to watch out for. I'm a supporter of guerrilla marketing so long as it's not sneaky to the point of illegal.


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