David Campbell has few regrets in his life but buying a 15th-century pub in West Sussex is one of his biggest. There is nothing wrong with The Hollist Arms at Lodsworth. In fact, with its real ales and log fires, it is a perfect country bolt-hole for media-types.
The former Virgin Radio chief bought the inn in a radical and rather impulsive move soon after overseeing the sale of Ginger Media - the company he co-owned with the unpredictable DJ Chris Evans and Richard Branson - to Scottish Media Group (SMG) for £225m in 2000. Yet the man handed responsibility for rebranding the much-maligned London Millennium Dome from white elephant capital landmark into leading entertainment and possible Olympic venue is no fan of the licensing trade.
He rates the experience of spending long hours pulling pints for locals for limited financial return as unpleasant as being summoned in 2003 to appear at the High Court. Campbell was called as a witness for Evans in the DJ's failed £8.6m damages claim against Virgin Radio, after its parent SMG sacked him. The cross-examination Campbell faced is still a painful memory. He has long since called time on his life as a publican and returned to what he knows best, which is media, marketing and entertainment. What he has learnt from his past mistakes is not to rush into business decisions. He thought carefully before accepting the offer to become CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group UK, the US owners of the Dome.
Anschutz is working with joint venture regeneration company Meridian Delta to turn the Greenwich site into a thriving entertainment destination. It needed someone with strong credentials to change attitudes towards the Dome, which has suffered from years of poor publicity and consumer derision.
Last week, the National Audit Office announced the building had cost taxpayers £28.7m to maintain and sell in the four years since it was closed. Work will begin in June to create a 22,000-seater music and sports arena, which will host basketball and gymnastics should London stage the 2012 Olympic Games. A super-casino could also be based there.
Campbell's knowledge of marketing London undoubtedly helped him get the job. Since 2003, his achievements as CEO of Visit London - the marketing and promotion tourist agency which is, in effect, the rebranded London Tourist Board - has made him a firm favourite with Ken Livingstone. The Mayor of London agreed Campbell's salary of about £250,000 a year, with a potential 20 per cent performance-related bonus, which made him the highest-paid executive in the UK visitor industry.
In the first six months of last year, international visitors to London rose to 6.1 million compared with 5.3 million in the same period in 2003. "If you are good at marketing and understand media, you can promote any brand," says Campbell. "It is harder to market something which has not lived up to expectations. The Dome will need to shout loudly about its content."
If you combine Campbell's passion for London with his previous experience, it becomes clear why Anschutz wanted him so badly. He spent five years marketing big brands, such as Pepsi, before joining the Virgin Group in 1986 and becoming the founding CEO of Virgin Radio in 1993. He formed Ginger Media with Evans and co in 1997 and did very nicely thank you out of the deal to sell the company and, with it, Virgin Radio to SMG. He left SMG within weeks of the agreement being signed to dabble in the world of the pub landlord and try his hand as a venture capitalist. He became executive vice-chairman of music company Ministry of Sound and later non-executive chairman of Zenith Entertainment, the company behind shows such as CD:UK and Inspector Morse.
Talk to those who have worked with him before and they recall a man who is quick-thinking and dynamic, if somewhat erratic and bad-tempered if things do not go his way. "When he takes on a job, he has a vision of what he ultimately wants to achieve, but you do have to tread very carefully around him if he is in a bad mood," says a former director at Virgin Radio.
Another former colleague, describing Campbell as someone people listen to and who gets things done in his own way, says: "He is the right choice for the Dome because he can come up with big ideas to make things happen. But I remember how he would work long into the night and sometimes miss meetings during the day."
It is Campbell's love of television as a medium which could be crucial in changing perceptions of the Dome as a waste of public money. Visit London's 24-hour digital television channel London TV, produced by Enteraction TV, the UK company behind L!ve TV and Thomas Cook TV, is Campbell's baby. More than £2m a year is invested in the channel, with costs offset by blue-chip advertising from brands such as IBM, Dell and Marriott hotels.
The possibilities of marketing through television have always excited Campbell. Ginger Media had a television production arm which produced shows such as TFI Friday and The Priory, presented by Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston, as well as programmes for Virgin Radio. Campbell and Evans often discussed how feasible it would be to launch a branded television channel but it was always too cost prohibitive. Digital technology has made this a much more affordable medium.
The London TV studios have been used this month by Evans' production company UMTV to make a pilot show reportedly for Challenge TV. "At Ginger, I discovered how television can work and bring results," says Campbell. "London TV helps people visualise London and is the best way to communicate what the city is all about because it brings things to life. The Dome will work with London TV once we have something to say."
The response of the national and global business community will be vital to Campbell's plans. Since the start of the year, he has signed deals for London TV to be shown in some of the capital's hotels and for programmes to appear on the Heathrow Express and in-bound flights from British Airways and United Airlines.
Controversial it may be, but Campbell will be among those raising a glass to the Dome if the nation grows to love it - just as long as he is not serving the drinks.Reuse content