As the build-up to Wimbledon reached fever pitch in June, tennis ace Tim Henman could be found fulfilling a slightly unconventional training schedule in central London.
On a grass court in Trafalgar Square, overlooked by Nelson's Column, the National Gallery and the occasional pigeon, the British number one battled it out with three-times Wimbledon champion Boris Becker and Footballers' Wives actresses Zoe Lucker and Laila Rouass.
The celebrities were promoting the finale of the Ariel Tennis Ace competition staged in conjunction with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). The campaign to find two tennis hopefuls between the ages of seven and 10 began in March and culminated in a one-day event on 13 June that saw 20 finalists whittled down to just two overall winners judged by Henman and Becker.
The duo received a year's free coaching from the LTA and a masterclass with Becker at Wimbledon while the championships were in progress.
Procter and Gamble's Ariel washing powder brand has sponsored Henman since 2002, making him the natural choice to headline Ariel's Tennis Ace event.
Media communications agency Hill & Knowlton has worked with the Ariel brand for 10 years. The agency is tasked with strategic planning of the brand's PR and this event is a prime example of its work. The creative concept came from its in-house team and was then developed with the help of event production company Hey Chihuahua.
"Hill & Knowlton came up with the creative idea," says Hey Chihuahua director Joolz Frayne. "We are an event production company who specialise in turning media companies' event and live brand experience ideas into reality. So their creative teams come up with an idea such as this - to put a real grass court in Trafalgar Square - but won't necessarily have the suppliers or the knowledge to do so."
Hey Chihuahua, which has been in business for two years, was brought on board four months ago as the national tour began. For the central London finale it was granted access to the square at midnight and worked through the night to recreate a full size grass court ready for the celebrity doubles match to kick off at 1.15pm.
"Timeframe of the build was definitely a consideration as well as weight limits of vehicles," says Frayne. "The area is quite sensitive as you fall under quite a lot of conditions. The GLA has been brilliant, however, and really helped us out."
This is the fourth year Ariel has been involved in such a project and the association with tennis is an important one for the brand. Gemma Hopkin, account director at Hill & Knowlton, says: "Ariel chose tennis because it is the most popular spectator sport among our Ariel customers - primarily mums - who are also keen for their kids to become active and involved in the sport.
"Our aim is for Ariel and the LTA to grow British tennis together by finding a new generation of British talent, supporting grassroots tennis and encouraging mass participation in the sport by players of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
"Our (above-the-line) Championship Whites campaign and support of tennis is driven by what the customer wants and benefits them and the sport."
Mel Wakely, event consultant on the project, agrees the importance of the campaign lay with the public interaction: "The idea was to use the celebrities to leverage media coverage and at the same time do something for the public and the kids. The whole thing is about grass roots, getting kids playing tennis. It's a nice project to work on and a nice initiative. If we don't support children getting into tennis early we won't have another Tim Henman and we're working very closely with the LTA on this."
In 2005 the plans exceeded all previous expectations, building on the positive feedback of last year. "This is the biggest they've ever done," says Wakely. "The first two years it was more media and PR driven rather than event led. In 2004 there was a pilot in four cities - Birmingham, Manchester, London and Edinburgh. This year it's far bigger, with 10 cities."
With plans to continue the project and expand year on year, it remains to be seen how the creative teams can better this year's Trafalgar Square event and continue to entice aspiring athletes into the competitive but highly rewarding world of tennis.
FACT FILE - ARIEL TENNIS ACE FINALE Date: 13 June Location: Trafalgar Square, London Organiser: Hill & Knowlton Client: Ariel (Proctor & Gamble) Event Production: Hey Chihuahua Print/Banners: Millharbour Branded merchandise: Proactive Merchandise Promotional staff: Hidden Agenda Court Design/Build/Dismantle: AJ Leisure Stewarding: Select Stewards Access site crew: Gallowglass Production bus supplier: Commbus Fencing supplier: Vincehire LED Screen and camera crew: Big TV