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  • Mandy Queen

Mastering Trade Promotion and Unforgettable Corporate Events: Insights from Billy MacNeill

Updated: Aug 30, 2023


Photo credit: Christian Gertenbach

I was incredibly fortunate to land a position at Scottish & Newcastle right after graduating. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to work in the Marketing Communications department, which has proven to be invaluable for my career. The trade promotion and B2B marketing skills I acquired at S&N have played a significant role in my professional development.


During my time at S&N, I had the privilege of reporting to Billy MacNeil, the Corporate Events Manager. I have fond memories of collaborating with him to host corporate events aimed at retail and wholesale buyers as well as trade journalists (not to mention the opportunity to fly in the company Learjet for an event in London). These trade events were closely tied to important sponsorship activities, highlighting the crucial role that sponsorship plays in enhancing a brand's reputation. If you've had the chance to watch the recent film AIR, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the significance attached to sponsorship.


Recently, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Billy during a delightful lunch at Fishers in the City, Edinburgh. During our meeting, he generously shared his wealth of expertise, knowledge, and the essential skills required for successfully executing brand hospitality events.


MQPR: What was your role at Heineken (S&N was acquired by Heineken in 2008)?

I was Corporate Events Manager at Heineken. I have been in the drinks industry for nearly 50 years at two global giants. I started at White Horse Distillers in 1973 and then joined the Publicity Department in 1980 where I took trade visits around the blending and bottling plant. Looked after a National trade golf competition. I moved to London 1983 with Distillers then to United Distillers, where I looked after the Johnnie Walker Ryder Cup exhibition travelling over Europe and managed the media at the 1989 Johnnie Walker Ryder Cup. I joined S&N in 1992, managing public relations across the North West of England and events sponsorship of Blackburn Rovers and St Helens RLFC. Latterly I joined S&N take home in 1997 and managed hospitality at the Foster’s Grand Prix across Europe and then I worked with Heineken.


MQPR: When we worked together, our target audience was trade media, big customers, supermarkets, wholesalers, cash and carry, independents, convenience, etc.

That's right. Our key stakeholders were trade media, big customers supermarkets, wholesalers cash and carry, independents, and convenience stores. Bottom line, my key objectives were to sell more products through events and sponsorship. Latterly stakeholders included on-trade, such as brewers, bars and restaurants, consumer competition winners, politicians, directors, and senior management for significant events. These events included the Heineken Cup Finals, Formula 1, John Smith's Grand National, UEFA Champions League, Rugby World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the 2012 Olympics.

MQPR: Planning events can be challenging as there are many components in trade promotion and people to keep happy. How do you do it?

One thing that remains ingrained in my memory is the analogy of planning a road journey to the city of Perfection. It's a remarkable expedition where one can see the city from a distance but never quite reaches its destination. However, the journey itself is truly awe-inspiring.

In my professional endeavours, I always strive to achieve the utmost value and uphold a professional image for the company and its brands. My unwavering dedication to excellence, meticulous attention to detail, and unwavering desire to ensure every guest enjoys the most exceptional experience possible have become the defining characteristics of my career.


Regardless of the challenges and pressures during events, I maintain a calm and composed demeanour on the surface, even if a flurry of activity transpires beneath. This skill is crucial in delivering world-class events and hospitality.


MQPR: And the various trade promotion components?

I was consistently committed to delivering events and hospitality of the highest standard, continuously raising the bar. During my tenure at Heineken UK, we became renowned for hosting unparalleled hospitality events that were adored by guests and envied by competitors. Meanwhile, I diligently sought to extract every ounce of value and benefit from the sponsorships.


Another crucial aspect is the unique challenges of dealing with beer products at events, particularly when consumer and customer bars need to be established. This process entails collaborating with the venue, arranging technical supplies, overseeing the construction of bars, cellars, and fridges, and ensuring an ample supply of glassware. Additionally, staff and brand ambassador/hostess training are essential, along with contingency plans for fridge malfunctions that may necessitate extra ice. As a sponsor, your reputation hinges on providing perfect beer options for consumers and hospitality guests, necessitating meticulous attention to detail.


MQPR: What is it like to be responsible for a brand's reputation? We had to care for some of the world's leading beer brands at Scottish & Newcastle… then you worked at Heineken.

The expertise required to determine the appropriate quantity of beer to order and manage is unparalleled. I believe no other product demands such high precision and thoroughness. A bottle of beer should always be served flawlessly at the right temperature, ensuring consistent quality.


When it comes to draught beer, it must be poured correctly into a clean glass, with the brand logo facing the guest. This small but significant detail contributes to the overall experience, inviting guests to savour and enjoy their beer to the fullest.

In summary, successfully handling beer products at events entails a comprehensive understanding of the intricate details. By meticulously attending to these elements, you can ensure the utmost satisfaction for your consumers and guests, maintaining the integrity of your sponsorship and enhancing the overall event experience.


We also had to ensure smooth running and great service of all bars say at a F1, Grand National, or the Heineken Cup Final where the paying customers were.


You have to get this huge area right as big volume and brand reputation are on the line.


MQPR: Scottish & Newcastle and Heineken were heavily involved in sponsorship to raise brand awareness. What was your role in this?

It is essential to constantly seek ways to enhance the value of your sponsorship through customer and consumer activation. This can be achieved by supporting the home stadiums before football matches, participating in coin toss ceremonies with team captains before rugby matches, presenting the player of the match award, having team greeters stationed pitchside during major football or rugby events, and organising exclusive ladies-only days at horse racing events.


To elevate the pre-match shows in rugby and football, we hired celebrities and MCs while being mindful of budget constraints. Notably, we pioneered female MCs and celebrities to sports sponsorship hospitality, setting a new standard.


Site visits are vital for the success of any event as they allow for gathering knowledge and building relationships with venues. Additionally, understanding the branding visibility at a stadium or venue is crucial, especially considering its presence on television broadcasts.


MQPR: What is one of your favourite achievements/memories?

It’s no exaggeration to say that in my career, literally hundreds of thousands of guests benefited from my meticulous attention to detail, and determination to have the highest quality hospitality at many global sports events.


I am so delighted to have worked for three great drinks companies, great brands. I have lots of memories of seeing happy customers buying company products.

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MQPR: So with all this trade promotion experience you must be in high demand. What are you available to do now?

I’m available now and looking to pick up some exciting projects, lend advice and support to others out there. You can contact me via email on billy.macneill@yahoo.com.




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