The new marketing director at Haymarket Exhibitions is under no illusion about the cut-throat nature of the business he is about to enter. Simon Clarkson, the 31-year-old replacement for Sarah Horrell, who quit the company to join Excel, doesn't expect competitors to pull any punches. "I'm looking forward to a good fight," he says with a wry smile.
Clarkson has fought and won many battles during a 12-year career in marketing, working with brands including Stella Artois, cereal brand Jordans and Cadbury. His working ethos is to always diagnose and analyse before addressing any problems.
It was as head of marketing for Radio Times in 2000 that he was faced with his toughest battle. "I relaunched the title and then sat back down and basked in success for the next nine months," he admits. "The moment of realisation dawned one morning on my way into work. Associated Newspapers had begun publishing free supplements with television listings. There was a billboard by the side of the road that showed a weekend magazine alongside a copy of Radio Times. The slogan read 'Can you spot the difference?' It was a £2m campaign aimed at stealing my readers."
Clarkson's first marketing claim to fame came during a sandwich course with Cadbury while at Aston University in Birmingham. "I was responsible for the last chauvinistic Milk Tray man ad in 1991," he recalls. "It was my first piece of advertising and the last time the man in black did his macho daredevil routine. From that point onwards he ran around in an Arran sweater."
Clarkson's brief was to make the man in black more representative of the new lad culture that was evolving in the early 1990s. "Our attempt was to have him struggle with his seatbelt while his helicopter hurtled towards the ground. A single bead of sweat represented his fallibility but it didn't go far enough."
It was while working at snack manufacturer Jacobs in 1996 that Clarkson received a "Procter and Gamble" style of training - where staff work in all areas of the business - a method that he values highly. He spent four months in an Aintree biscuit factory, followed by four months in the sales, marketing and finance departments. "I was one of the last to benefit from these training schemes. They've not come back into fashion after the recession of the early 1990s," he laments.
Clarkson reaped the benefits of this grounding when he was ready to move on to bigger brands. He cites his time with Whitbread on the Stella Artois account as key. "It was the most fun I've had with a brand, but also the most professional," he recalls. "I worked on the Red Shoes commercial where a guy buys a pair of shoes for his grandmother but swaps them for a pint of Stella in a French cafe."
Prior to joining Radio Times, Clarkson was UK marketing manager for family-run cereal business Jordans. It was here that he had his first taste of using shows to promote products. And ironically, it was a Haymarket exhibition - the BBC Good Food Show.
He is now back at Haymarket not as a customer, but as the man in charge of promoting its exhibition portfolio. Since his arrival at the start of the year, Clarkson has only been to Autosport International at the NEC and Vive la France at Olympia in London, which he describes as having "the same satisfying hum as a Waitrose store on a Sunday morning."
Clarkson confesses, however, that he is more likely to be found hill running on a Sunday morning. "I get high on the endorphins. It's comparable to the feeling of playing with a wonky tooth as a child - it hurts but you can't stop doing it." He is likely to meet plenty of rival marketers who can relate to that feeling.
The best piece of brand marketing... Stella Artois owes everything to its brand image since blind taste tests have shown that consumers either don't like it or don't recognise it without its branding
Why London should bid for the 2012 Olympics... I'm from the North, but my instincts say yes. I'm a positive thinker and I don't see why we should be defeatist. The capital just needs to get on and overcome its infrastructure problems
His handover from Sarah Horrell... She took me through every show report and all the marketing strategies. It was invaluable, but also demonstrated what a hard act she is to follow
His working environment... There's a Feng Shui book containing a photo of our street corner, with the Siemens Arc building opposite, to exemplify the worst place to work in London. We're moving to better premises in Hammersmith later in the year.