Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)



  300. A difference of six million is a bit more understandable over a year rather than two weeks. In early 1995, when the figure of 15 million was first identified, until 11 December 1996, when we got back to 13.5 million, can you understand the confusion which existed among all those people who were trying to implement decisions when there were six different numbers in terms of projected visitors. The unpredictability of six numbers is usually on your lottery ticket rather than six different numbers in terms of visitors to the Millennium Dome.
  (Mr James) I can see one very clear reason why there might have been that confusion and that is that at that date it was substantially in advance of the time when the contents had been identified and therefore there were different perceptions of who had come to different types of exhibition.

  301. On ticket sales and visitor numbers you talked about sales over the Internet being 90 per cent below expected projection. What effort did you make to market yourself? In terms of compiling e-mail databases, direct mail through e-mail? I only know, for example, that in the last couple of months a gentleman called Mr Al Gore has been e-mailing me every day. I do not know why. I do not live in Florida and I have no friends in Florida, but he has been making that effort throughout the world. What efforts were made by yourselves to try to tap into that market?
  (Mr James) We had a multi-faceted marketing programme which amounted in total to £30.89 million of budgeted expenditure at the time of the launch.

  302. How many people were you regularly e-mailing?
  (Mr James) I could not tell you the number. We had a number of tie-ins as well with various sponsors which were developed. We did £16.44 million of direct advertising at the time.

  303. That is not what I am asking. It is a good answer but it is not to the question I am asking. If that information exists, could we be given a note?
  (Mr James) I have just been told that the answer is that we did none.

  304. How many people were you e-mailing on a regular basis?
  (Mr James) None.

  305. Why?
  (Mr James) We acknowledge that we have had a major disappointment in our network and e-mail marketing.

  306. It cannot be a disappointment in terms of returns because you did not e-mail anyone.
  (Mr James) No, but we had our own booking site.

  307. I know. I visited it.
  (Mr James) Therefore it was accessible and had the usual forms of e-mail advertising going with it on the site.

  308. I ask you for an opinion here. I am so taken aback that I had to construct a question which would give you a gentle way of offering an opinion. The Millennium Dome, the celebration of a new millennium, with all that it brings and all it identifies and all that it symbolises, that great new world, yet you did not think of directly targeting or directly mailing through the e-mail system a single person on this planet.
  (Mr James) That is not true in terms of the way the year evolved.

  309. You just thought about it but you did not do it.
  (Mr James) The tie-in advertising with various sponsors.

  310. I accept that British Airways may be telling their clients or whatever. How many people did the organisation directly e-mail?
  (Mr James) None. We had a website which invited visits but we did not have a proactive strategy and I have to say that is the reality.

  311. I would put that down as an enormous marketing mistake. Would you agree?
  (Mr James) I think I have had a constant theme of some concern about the lack of an integrated marketing strategy and that has been one of my points when I have been sympathising with the points made by various members of this Committee today. To that earlier comment, I would say that I agree with yours that it is another point which should have been included. There was a great deal of very serious intent to try to get the marketing straight, but if I look back on it and ask what the biggest characteristic of this company was that I see as an operational problem, it was the huge concentration of everybody's efforts to get the thing open and built by 31 December and I think certain things were lost in the process and the marketing was one of them.

  312. I am sure the Committee heard the strength with which you made that comment. Appendix 8 of the report identifies sponsors and partners. There is a whole list there. I am surprised by that list. I shop at Boots, I watch BSkyB, until this year I drove a Ford car, I have eaten at McDonald's, I shop in Marks & Spencer and Tesco, I fly with British Airways and I visit various BAA-built airports in this country. I am not aware at any time in any of those outlets or organisations of having been handed a piece of paper saying "Visit the Dome". Why?
  (Mr James) I cannot comment on those particular ones.

  313. Was there no effort to involve or task the partners and the sponsors?
  (Mr James) There has been and it has succeeded but it has come late in the year. What I am agreeing with you is that it did not happen at the front end. The comment which has been made to me by people I have challenged on this question of marketing is "How the hell could we start marketing the damn thing in the middle of 1999 when we did not know what it was going to look like?".

  314. You have already acknowledged that the vilification in Parliament by certain quarters has undermined the project. The report says that negative publicity in one week knocked ticket sales by 30 to 50 per cent in the following period. Would you agree with the statement that the coverage and the publicity generated here in Parliament has helped undermine ticket sales?
  (Mr James) I am afraid this is not one of those projects where you could say that all publicity is good publicity. We have suffered undoubtedly from the constant threat of criticism which has run through both the press and the political arena.

  315. Publicity here in Parliament has undermined your ability to sell tickets for the Dome.
  (Mr James) Every time we have been heavily criticised in public, whether it is political or journalistic, we have had a dip.

  316. I shall take that as a yes.
  (Mr James) May I correct one comment I have made to you and I must in fairness do this. Of our sponsors, BA did regularly contain the advertisement for us in their High Life magazine, so there was an ad for it in front of everybody who flew with them. We have had much varied support from Boots, from Marks & Spencer and from BT along the line as well.

  317. I forgot to mention also that my telephone and internet lines are provided by BT and I have had no marketing through them either. Where I have eaten, where I have shopped, where I have flown, the car I have driven, are all within your sponsorship range and I am not aware of having been handed a good old fashioned piece of paper telling me to go to the Dome. Equally I have not received an e-mail telling me to go the Dome from anyone. Why did so few people from Scotland visit the Dome?
  (Mr James) You are very cautious with your money in Scotland, are you not? That is the traditional view of an Englishman, I am afraid. You have already said it is a long way to come and expensive.

  318. I did not say that; it was someone over there.
  (Mr James) My tongue was slightly in my cheek with the answer, so forgive me. I suppose it is because physically it is a long way to come. People would go to the Dome perhaps on a visit to London generally planned.

  319. They go to DisneyWorld in Florida which is a lot further away.
  (Mr James) They probably go for longer.

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