The serious business of having fun

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2007, 12:00am

Elaborate boxes, star guests and detailed planning help firms win the networking game

Planning for next year's event starts the moment the Sevens has stopped. Ideas are mulled over and big budgets set long in advance.

This is coveted territory, and the competition for the best box is almost as tough as the action out on the pitch.

The Sevens is industry's time to showcase itself to its peers - and to the world.

All that fun is a serious business when the underlying agenda is to position the company's brand in the best light possible.

The main boxes went for themes: an aviator one for Deutsche Bank, complete with leggy flight attendants; CLSA went for a cool landing, with an ice statue acting as a conduit for drinking near-frozen vodka; Merrill Lynch had an 'On the Piste' apres ski theme.

Standard Chartered decided the best theme was former players. In its box this weekend it assembled a formidable squad of greats - Francois Pienaar, Jonah Lomu, Gavin Hastings and Jason Leonard, chaperoned by Phil Greening. Greening, a former Lion, is now based in Singapore with the bank, in a sponsorship and community rugby role.

Host Peter Sullivan was not out of place among the 'famous five' as he captained Australia in the early 1970s.

'We believe in rugby on many levels, from sponsoring a box in events such as this to donating to Operation Breakthrough, and growing rugby from the ground up in Hong Kong in collaboration with the HKRFU,' he said.

UBS is another corporate name that supports rugby not just at Sevens time, with its brand behind the Hong Kong team. Its box for the weekend took on a 'Magnificent Sevens' theme. It looked like an authentic Wild West saloon bar, complete with a moose on the loose hanging from the wall. JPMorgan, which got the stadium going during World Cup Sevens in 2005 with its Elvis theme, this year went for a more sedate 'Raw rugby' theme. Events manager Penny Moore said: 'We went back to the grass roots of rugby for authenticity with our theme this year. We look for events that best depict our premium brand, and that reflect our strategy. The Sevens is always top of our list.'

So does all this hard-earned, hard-core fun add up to a corporate return on investment?

CLSA chief James Paterson said: 'The return on our investment is the return from our clients, and I am pleased to say our clients are all happy!'

Added CEO of AIG insurance, Les Maut, whose box depicted hot-pink pigs and premiums to celebrate the Chinese lunar calendar: 'Our guests have flown in from Europe, the US and Australia. It's not only the best networking event in Asia - it's the best in the world.'

But while life goes back to normal for most of us after the Sevens, for former players such as Lomu, Leonard and Pienaar, it's on to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for more corporate engagements for Standard Chartered. 'We're in the business of entertainment, and you've got to be as disciplined, professional and focused about this as you do about playing for your country,' Pienaar said.

Leonard added: 'It's a total win-win situation being on the speaking circuit. In some ways it is tougher than touring with a team though. I'm having a great time, but my liver wants to go home.'