Expect some fireworks when Phil gives speech

FEW, if indeed any, of the world's top business schools put the football fan and their somewhat basic tribal instincts up as a model of the ideal customer.

However, Phil Anderton is a firm believer that business can learn a lot from professional sport - in particular, the Holy Grail of sales: lifelong loyalty to the brand.

In Scotland, phrases such as "both boy and man" and "lifelong supporter" are inextricably linked with the enduring passion of the football aficionado for his or her team.

It's a relationship that Mr Anderton is well versed in, and his skilful exploitation of it has earned him a name as one of Scotland's foremost marketing gurus.

In a 20-year career that has seen him work in the UK, America and Austria, he has held managerial marketing positions with Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble and chief executive roles at the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and Hearts.

"A lot of people think sport is just a hobby and not a successful model that business can learn from," says Mr Anderton.

"It's fair to say, though, that in Scottish football in particular there's a lot of things that business should not do. But for all the bad examples, there's many good ones."

The lessons that business can learn from sport will be the subject of Mr Anderton's keynote speech to the audience at the forthcoming Evening News Business Excellence Awards, on March 17.

"Sport, and particularly football, has an extremely loyal customer or fan base and business can learn from that," states Mr Anderton.

Much can be gleaned, he believes, from the type of motivation, team-spirit and communication that is evident in professional sports teams.

Some real life examples will be revealed on the day of the awards at Mansfield Traquair Church.

But by way of introduction Mr Anderton cites Scotland rugby coach Frank Hadden's recent miracle job in energising his team to such an extent that they pulled off their first Murrayfield victory against France in ten years.

"The product and personnel was basically the same as before, but the senior manager was different. Frank got the guys believing in themselves by tapping into their mental strength," Mr Anderton says.

"There's a prevalent attitude in Scotland that seems to need to focus on what we're not very good at instead of concentrating on our strengths.

"Good businesses are ones that realise they need to motivate their staff by constantly encouraging what they're good at, working on individual strengths.

"Too many companies are fixated on the areas where people are not very good rather than trying to improve further the things they are good at," he notes.

Given that most businesses stand or fall on their results, the parallel with sport is even more acute.

"Sport is the ultimate results-driven business: your position in the league reflects your results," says Mr Anderton.

And results are affected by the personnel within the ranks, and is particularly vital at senior level.

"Look at [English Premiership side] Newcastle United," says Mr Anderton. Under Sir Bobby Robson they were doing reasonably well. They removed him and brought in another guy [former Rangers and Liverpool manager Graeme Souness] who perhaps did not have the same sort of track record.

"They ended up dropping down the league. That to me is a very clear example of not having the right people at the top."

Having graduated from St Andrews University with a degree in management and international relations, Mr Anderton's marketing nous saw him directly involved in Coca-Cola's sponsorship of major sporting events, from the Scottish League Cup to events such as the European and World Cup football championships, Wimbledon, the Olympics, as well as America's national football and basketball leagues.

During his time as marketing manager at Coca-Cola's Atlanta headquarters Mr Anderton learned first hand that constant innovation is necessary to keep customers onside.

His novel use of pyrotechnics before a Scotland versus England Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield earned him the nickname "Fireworks Phil" - but it helped bring rugby into a wider public entertainment realm.

"American organisations, be they business or sport, are very adept at understanding what their customers want," he states.

"In the UK, until very recently at least, sport has largely taken its customers for granted: an 'as long as the team is doing well, they'll turn up' attitude.

"It was almost as if sports organisations took the view that customers were lucky to be involved with them."

While in the US, he says he met many people who were "genuinely passionate" about Coke because of the American-style values the brand imparted in them.

He says: "Coke understood this and constantly found new ways of reinforcing this passion for their brand."

While the real end game between a business and a professional sports organisation might be seen as profit and results respectively, the reality is that both have to make money if they want to reinvest in their future.

"When I joined the SRU from Coke people said it was two completely different things in terms that one had a huge budget and the other a miniscule one," recalls Mr Anderton.

"But ultimately the same principles are at work, it's only the magnitude that's different.

"At the SRU it was about making money to reinvest in the game and encourage more people to take up the game or spend more leisure time watching it as opposed to playing golf, for instance, or doing nothing at all. So at the end of the day budgets and scale are irrelevant."

What's important is winning customers and keeping them. But probably of greater importance is having the courage to constantly review even a successful strategy, Mr Anderton thinks.

"Any business needs to keep recruiting customers; needs to keep its pricing right; needs to get its PR working and it needs to keep its product right for the market if it is to keep customers spending even more money on their brand."

Informed by his knowledge of business on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr Anderton says his experience of the UK corporate sector suggests a higher degree of risk aversion within Britain.

"A lot of businesses are performing well enough but they're perhaps not bold enough to make the big changes in terms of strategy or targets that they need to be even more successful.

"It's a risk averse culture that leads to low self-esteem and ultimately lowers performance."

Summarising the need for constant innovation and excellence, Mr Anderton says:

"The way to be a successful business is to have a good product or service and constantly find new ways to connect it with customers."

Looking to the future . . here and further afield

HEARTS might have seen fit to curtail Phil Anderton's time as chief executive after just six months in October, but he's had no shortage of job offers since.

In his first interview since parting company from Hearts, Mr Anderton says: "I'm taking my time and making sure it's the right job this time."

He doesn't regret his time at Hearts, which came to an end when the so-called Romanov revolution reached the boardroom. However, he's "disappointed" at the way Hearts have acted towards settling his axed contract and at some of the personal barbs some current directors have aimed at him in the wake of his departure.

"I'm not going down the bitter and twisted route against a former employer. But the truth has not come out yet," he says. "I'm choosing not to speak on the matter at the moment as I don't want to distract Hearts from what they're trying to achieve."

Still, three months on from his departure, he says the Gorgie club has still not paid due compensation.

"I'll probably have to take the matter to court," he states, adding that only then would the full details of his departure and that of axed manager George Burley emerge.

"I'm just one individual in the whole history of Hearts football club and the club is much stronger than any one individual But I just think the way it was all done and the aftermath of it is not the way it should have been done. It was not very professional."

As for the future, Mr Anderton says: "I'm looking at a few opportunities, both in Scotland and further afield.

"There's been a couple of interesting propositions put to me, sporting ones, football clubs in England and also sports businesses in England at both chief executive level or more commercial positions.

"I'm also looking at something potentially in Scotland with an American sports organisation."