UKCEM 25 Years Alumni Stories: Ben Wilkinson
CSM Business Director and Events Management alumnus Ben Wilkinson shares his career journey that’s taken him to Dubai and saw him carrying the 6 Nations Trophy on live TV.
Course studied: BA (Hons) Events Management
Years of Study: 1999 - 2003
Current Position: Business Director, CSM Sport & Entertainment
Can you give us a quick overview of your career since finishing your course?
After graduating in 2003 I started out in my first full-time role working for an experiential agency called Poise Marketing, which was a result of a contact I made through my placement year. I worked on sporting events with clients including Adidas, Norwich Union (Aviva), the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), Nike and Britvic. It was a small agency and gave me enormous exposure to all areas of the business; from pitching for new clients to stuffing envelopes.
I then joined another agency, Karen Earl Sponsorship (which became Synergy and now ENGINE Sport), one of the UK’s leading sports marketing agencies. I spent nine incredibly happy and rewarding years there progressing through the business to the leadership team.
I was privileged to work on some incredible sporting events, including many years of running the event programmes for the RBS 6 Nations, BMW’s award-winning partnership with London 2012 and countless campaigns and activation for key clients across golf, rugby, football and beyond. It was during this period that my role shifted focus to the integration of digital and experiential activity.
In 2014 I took on a brand-new challenge to lead experiential marketing for Jaguar Land Rover in the Middle East and North Africa Region based out of Dubai. I spent the next three and a half years developing and delivering their experiential strategy for the region, incorporating partnerships, launches, product placement, motor shows and driving experiences. It was a huge learning curve in terms of culture and mindset and after a brilliant experience my fair skin needed to return to the UK where I took up my current role at CSM in 2018.
Today I have responsibility for a number of key clients, lead our client relationship management and help develop new ways of meeting customers’ needs and combining brand experience with digital technology to engage and immerse sport fans.
How has the experience and skills you learnT at UKCEM helped you in your career?
I loved studying and living in Leeds and still have a really strong core group of friends from the course. I really enjoyed the practical side of the course, the placement year developed me enormously and like any industry, relationships you develop within the world of events are really key to opening up new opportunities.
The broad modules of my course gave me a really strong foundation and have been useful in the working world; from strategic thinking to health and safety. It can sometimes be hard to see how theory of academic research applies in practice during your studies, but I can honestly say the grounding the degree gave me has been of massive value throughout my professional career. Not least my dissertation which was on the ‘use and effectiveness of events in the automotive industry’, which clearly gave me great insight and inspiration when I took up my role with Jaguar Land Rover and who happen to be one of my key clients today at CSM.
What has been the standout moment in your career to date?
There have been so many moments and things to remember, but as a proud Welsh rugby fan it has to be when I was in charge of the presentation of the 6 Nations Trophy in 2008 when Wales completed the Grand Slam and I was filmed live on the BBC proudly carrying out the Trophy!
How have you adapted your practices in response to the Covid-19 pandemic?
2020 was year of learning and agility with far greater emphasis on digital and virtual worlds. We adapted incredibly quickly and developed a new proposition we called ‘SmartFan+’ which is a platform to help engage sport and entertainment fans in rich immersive experiences via the second screen. It’s been a terrible year for humanity but from a work point of view I think we’ve really developed and created new and highly exciting ways for fans to interact and enjoy their passions. Whilst so many events across sport and entertainment have been disrupted, I really believe we’ll see a stronger, more creative and better equipped industry when we fully emerge at the other side.
What advice would you give to any looking to start a career in the events industry?
Be passionate and find as much experience as possible. Develop relationships as this will be key to growing opportunities. Get ahead and stay ahead; at the moment that’s all about being ahead of the technology curve to understand how tech can enrich the world of events and experiences. And finally, if you don’t like hard work and high pressure, perhaps look for something else!