Branson pulls off another publicity coup

Branson pulls off another publicity coup - 1st April 2009

SEPANG, Malaysia (AFP) — Richard Branson has proved time and again that he is one of the world's shrewdest businessmen, but his move to put the Virgin Group logo on the Brawn GP cars is timing at its best.

Last month the maverick multi-millionaire, who has already invested heavily in planes and trains, looked like he was going to buy into automobiles by taking over the Honda team.

Instead, he waited until Ross Brawn paid to do that -- and then put his company's name on the car, the only logo on the rookie team's livery.

It was a major publicity coup for the British entrepreneur, who was in Melbourne to see Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello cross the line first and second respectively at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

British newspaper reports said he paid as little as 200,000 pounds to have the Virgin Group name seen by an estimated television audience of 170 million people, probably one of the best deals in sport.

Now Branson is apparently interested in increasing his investment and taking a stake in the team, with full naming rights a possibility.

"I would suggest you watch this space, as we will have further announcements to make in three weeks from now," Branson told the official website.

"The plan is to work closer together in the years to come."

Branson, a long-time Formula One fan, has said previously that the huge costs of running a team and the lack of green technology were issues that needed to be addressed before he entered the sport.

But now the timing appears to be right, with a budget cap due to be enforced on teams next year and green fuels being developed.

"I have been friends with Bernie (Ecclestone) and known him for many years. He has tried to tempt us in and we have been a reluctant bride up until now," said Branson.

"When Honda decided to step out of Formula One, there were some brilliant engineers led by Ross Brawn who looked like being out of work.

"So we decided to see whether we could help him to save the team and tie up and work together.

"It appears that we have chosen a good time to enter into this relationship, and I am glad that I have resisted Bernie in the past, as timing is everything in life."

While Formula One has always been synonymous with big money and glamour, the flamboyant Branson, who launched his career with Virgin Records in the 1970s, feels it would benefit from more "rock'n'roll."

"Formula One has lost some brands, and Virgin is definitely a sexy, fun and 'rock'n'roll' brand. Virgin has brought you the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols," he said.

"We plan to thoroughly enjoy our involvement in Formula One and bring some extra life to it and do things in the Virgin way.

"We plan to be innovative and I want to pursue Bernie and Max (Mosley), not only to pioneer great engineering, but also pioneer clean fuels.

"We have been developing a clean fuel for Formula One, which works, and hope to introduce it to Formula One.

"We also would be delighted to help Bernie in trying to reduce the costs, to try to encourage more brands to join Formula One to keep it exciting."


Virgin Enterprises Limited

Richard Branson