Inside Business: The Unique selling points of our man from Crinkley Bottom

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The Independent Online
BANISH all thoughts of the merry prankster from Saturday evening television: Noel Edmonds means business. Unique, his entertainment and marketing business, is trying to convince industry that television personalities and programmes can enhance business activities from internal communications to trade launches, below- and above-the-line advertising and marketing campaigns.

The latest initiative is a Trebor Bassett promotion next month that features Mr Edmonds on-pack and in a range of point-of-sale materials. He will also advertise an instant-win promotion that offers shoppers an opportunity to win a house, or have a mortgage paid up to the value of pounds 60,000. The campaign will run on 8 million packs of Trebor Bassett sweets.

"It's not the first time we've run an instant-win but it is a departure to use a personality," says Sharon White, a brand manager of Trebor Bassett.

"We wanted something big to help shout the promotion from the shelf. We felt the match was just right for our products and target market."

Mr Edmonds has already become a familiar part of Maxwell House's marketing. But his appearance on packs, in promotional literature and in above- the-line advertising is only the start of it. He has worked regularly with a number of companies making live appearances at sales conferences and product launches, and been closely associated with Rover for 20 years and Cellnet for 11. But he is indirectly involved with more than 70 more through Unique's production, licensing, marketing and sales promotion divisions.

Central to Unique Group's business is the creation and acquisition of new intellectual property rights to exploit both in the media and on behalf of corporate clients. It is cashing in on companies' growing interest in using established television properties to promote their brands.

Entertainment character licensing is nothing new. However, with the growth of commercial television sponsorship, ITV companies in particular are encouraging broadcast sponsors to use the television brands they have become associated with in a range of marketing activities off-air.

"Broadcast sponsorship may be the catalyst, but it's only the tip of the iceberg," says Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Laser, Granada/LWT's sales division. Cadbury, which is to sponsor Coronation Street, will promote the association off-air on-pack, at point-of-sale, through merchandising and a range of corporate communications.

"Part of the contract will enable them to gain access to certain characters for promotion purposes. Associating with a high-profile television property offers instant awareness. And it's a known quantity: it's safe."

Of course it is also in the broadcaster's interests to have its wares promoted as widely as possible. If Cadbury puts Coronation Street on millions of bars of chocolate, it can only help in the ratings war.

Mr Edmonds launched Unique 10 years ago. But despite being early into the corporate market he is aware many regard the company as a vehicle for his own talents instead of being a broad-based, marketing business in its own right. "There's a great difference between Noel, Noel's House Party and our other intellectual property rights and what else we can provide: we could approach Dawn French or Jennifer Saunders," he insists. "We are able to bring television production experience and expertise to provide a service many companies would otherwise not be able to afford."

Unique positions itself as a company's creative resource. Inevitably much of this activity is TV-related - the production division is currently developing 20 radio programmes for BBC and commercial stations. As it retains the rights to the shows it develops, corporate clients can use elements of Noel's House Party, Telly Addicts and Telly Years or programmes soon to launch, all with broadcaster approval.

"We are very alert to production guidelines and commercial restrictions. The BBC is aware of our plans and is happy. We'd not do a single thing to jeopardise this relationship," says Paul Pascoe, the managing director of Unique Group.

"TV properties reach out and touch," Mr Edmonds believes. If the client's brand values match the TV property's, the association can provide massive media awareness and endorsement. "Trebor Bassett is totally plausible: it fits with House Party, a promotion to pay towards your house. And it's appealing across a broad socio-economic range," he says. "Why pay for traditional advertising when you can buy these kinds of associations, often at a cheaper cost?"

Unique wants to acquire rights to manage and exploit properties created outside the group. "The next step is to establish Unique apart from my involvement," Mr Edmonds says. It's all part of the firm's coming of age. "There are still people who think 'Will I get gunged at a serious meeting?'. This is something that we are all eager to overcome."

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