In five short years Vero Communications has established itself as one of the most recognisable names in the sports industry worldwide. SportsPro caught up with Mike Lee, chairman of the agency that has played a key role in Rio de Janeiro’s successful bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, rugby’s entry into the Olympic Sports programme and Qatar’s campaign to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
What was the reason for founding Vero in 2006?
After the success of the London 2012 Olympic campaign and serving in the interim Locog, it felt like a good time personally and professionally to set up a new agency and explore the sport business marketplace. 2012 was a special campaign and it was great to be part of the winning team. That, combined with my previous experience in sport, the media and politics, led me to think ‘this is the right time to create a new agency’. I had a sense, having worked over a number of years in the communications field, that there was possibly a gap in the market in terms of a strategic communications agency that also knew a lot about brand, campaigning and the business of sport.
The company is underpinned by narrative and storytelling. Is that a lesson you took from working on the London bid?
It probably goes back to the time I used to work in politics for the Labour party initially as a campaigns officer and then in parliament for David Blunkett MP. Some of the skillset and experience that motivated me came out of political-style campaigning and understanding that the best campaigns always have a strong and powerful narrative. Certainly what we all found working on London 2012 as our campaign developed was that we spent a lot more time thinking through, designing and implementing a very attractive and interesting narrative and that was one of the reasons why we won. Great brands and organisations know the power and importance of strong narratives.
How has the company changed since its inception?
We have grown and extended our work beyond campaigns, though it’s not an ambition that Vero should become 100 people. The ambition is that we’re successful in our work but that we also take satisfaction and enjoyment from it; that we work on things that are exciting for the company. We also aim to make a profit and in the last financial year we made a record level of profit.
Expanding purely in personnel terms is not the point. It’s still a relatively small team – there’s eight of us on the books – but we also have freelancers and other agencies that we like to work with so we can create some sizeable teams working on marketing collateral, films and major presentations. That’s become a part of the flexibility that we’ve got. We are a one-stop shop but we often bring in like-minded people that we’ve worked with before on other campaigns, some of whom have also come out of London 2012. I find this approach far more satisfying than just endlessly worrying about overheads.
The company has developed with new skills, particularly on the brand side, and with our experience working on some amazing projects, including Rio 2016, Rugby into the Games, Qatar 2022 and football takeovers. It has been a fascinating journey.
How do you see the next five years for the company?
We will grow, extend our reach and we have just opened our first international office in Rio. Most recently our growth has taken in clients and projects which we could never have expected when we started in 2006.
Of course you also want to continue to be profitable. The fact is that if you’re a strategic agency profitability is a good judge of things, it shows you’re doing good work, you’re continuing to be employed in interesting projects and you can go on investing in the company. We’ve set ourselves a pretty high target after last year’s success and we will add to the team in the next six months, so there will be growth in terms of our overall breadth.
I’ve been personally blessed with having worked on some great projects and in the frontline of the business of sport – working at the Premier League, working with Uefa – before I even landed at London 2012.
You create a company like Vero for a number of different reasons and I am happy to say after five years we appear to have made a success of the journey so far. We are all looking forward to the next phase to 2012 and beyond.