Getting tanked up for the millennium

Those bereft of ideas to mark the year 2000 have turned to the experts, says Roger Trapp
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The Independent Online
With the millennium 10 months away, the one thing you would have thought you could be sure of was that just about every company would have dreamed up some way of celebrating it.

Sure, not every initiative would be bound to meet the highest standards in taste. And few of the events would be spectacularly innovative. But companies would definitely be planning something.

Not a bit of it, says Mark Borkowski. Indeed, the public relations man has been so struck by the general lack of activity that he has been moved to set up a specialist consultancy called the Millennium Ideas Tank to help fill the gap.

MIT, which will aim to tailor events to the needs of particular clients, is a subsidiary of ThinkInc, an ideas consultancy that he founded with Peter Freedman late last year after coming to the conclusion that "ideas will be to the 21st century what coal was to the 19th".

Acknowledging that London, in particular, will see a lot of action on the night simply because of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, he points out that a mail-out he conducted showed that big businesses, even though a few companies were contributing to the dome, were "doing nothing much".

As a PR specialist, he sees this as a waste of an opportunity for companies to do something memorable. He adds that though it is "a marketing man's dream" it is perhaps "such a big concept that people can't get their heads around it".

GlaxoWellcome, Vauxhall and KP Snacks are among those that Mr Borkowski says have responded to his call to become involved in a sort of creative consultancy designed to help organisations come up with appropriate ideas to mark this momentous date. Though the initiative is clearly meant to help companies deal with the millennium in a way that is memorable for staff, suppliers and customers, Mr Borkowski is so convinced of the scarcity of ideas within British businesses that he sees it as having a life beyond then.

"MIT has been set up to meet an urgent need," he says, adding, however, that there is not as little time in which to prepare something as executives are inclined to think. "It's not just about 31 December 1999. They also have the whole of the year 2000, including new year's eve 2000 - which technically is the real start of the next millennium. Thousands of millennium events will be taking place across the world during the year 2000," he says.

The need for ideas is where ThinkInc comes in. Mr Borkowski - whose Improperganda firm has acquired a reputation for innovative PR for clients as varied as Cliff Richard and Gordon's Gin - was inspired to make the move because he was increasingly being asked help come up with ideas not only by clients but also by other consultancies.

Conscious that in the United States in particular ideas were acquiring an ever greater value, Mr Borkowski thought that there must be scope for a business supplying ideas in a country that the Government was seeking to mould into a "creative economy".

In keeping with its intention to be at the forefront of current thinking, the consultancy will be a fluid organisation - drawing in marketing specialists, "free thinkers", journalists and even people not connected with the media world as it and clients see fit. As well as meeting for brainstorming (or what Mr Borkowski calls "industrial day-dreaming" sessions) they will e-mail suggestions into a central pot, where they will be distilled and used to spark further suggestions.

Though this part of the process does not appear that different from the sort of creative thinking processes habitually used by design companies and other creative organisations, Mr Borkowski believes his intention of going to a lot of unexpected sources will put him on to a winner. "It's going to get tougher in this marketplace," he says, adding: "People want individual thinking."