How I Made It: Jane Asscher, co-founder of 23red

How I Made It Jane Asscher, co-founder of 23red

THE rapid rise of Jane Asscher and Sean Kinmont in London’s adland left them wanting more. The friends had joined the Tequila agency in 1990, and in 10 years became chief executive and creative director respectively. But the moment had come to start their own venture.

“It was frustrating being part of a big group,” said Asscher. “We felt clients and brands needed a more holistic approach to advertising than the industry was offering at the time.”

Spotting a gap in the market for a so-called integrated creative agency, Asscher and Kinmont left their jobs and set up 23red in October 2000. It combines advertising, sponsorship, design, digital marketing and brand identity to help clients such as Bacardi and the Bluewater shopping centre to attract customers.

The business, based in King’s Cross, central London, recorded sales of £3.3m in the year to September 2013 and expects an increase to £4.5m this year.

Kinmont, 49, the creative director, named the agency after a winning bet on 23 red in a game of roulette in Las Vegas. Asscher wasn’t convinced at first: “I was worried clients would think we would gamble with their money. But it’s certainly memorable and has worked for us.”

The agency has led Bacardi’s responsible drinking campaign Champions Drink Responsibly (CDR) since 2008. It uses the power of celebrity to encourage drinkers to understand their limits. Ambassadors have included Rafael Nadal, the tennis champion who has won 14 grand slam singles titles.

CDR reaches a worldwide audience of 45m and has 1m ‘likes’ on Facebook. “Social media are critical to reaching young people,” said Asscher. “The champions have their own fan bases that we can work with.”

Her firm is also the creative brains behind public sector campaigns such as Stoptober, which challenges smokers to cut the habit for 28 days during October, and Be Food Smart, part of Change4Life, the government’s first social marketing campaign to tackle obesity in Britain. The schemes are designed around 23red’s marketing model “Do. Feel. Think.”

“We really believe you can get people to change their behaviour, and the way they think or feel about brands, by encouraging them to do something,” said Asscher, who is chairwoman and chief executive.

This includes her 45 staff, each entitled to a “cultural allowance” of £20 a month. “It inspires them to go out and experience culture, find interesting ideas and bring them back into the business,” she said.

Asscher, 50, was born in London and grew up in Cardiff with her younger sister Sophie. Her father, Sir William Asscher, who died in July, was a doctor and principal of St George’s Hospital Medical School from 1988 to 1996.

“My father was inspirational. He survived the concentration camps in the Second World War,” she said. “His ethos of hard work and never giving up has kept me going.” Her mother, Jennifer Lloyd, was also a doctor but “I was never going to be a medic”, Asscher said. “I spent time in hospitals with mum and dad but I couldn’t stand the smell.”

Asscher attended Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff. In 1980 she won a scholarship to study the international baccalaureate at the United World College of the Atlantic in Llantwit Major, Glamorgan. She graduated from Oxford in 1985 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics before applying to a graduate recruitment scheme at the ad agency Ogilvy and Mather in London.

She rose to senior account executive before leaving to join Waldron Allen Henry & Thompson Advertising as an account manager in 1988. She moved to Tequila London in April 1990, rising to chief executive in 1999.

Asscher and Kinmont sold their shares in the agency in September 2000 and put £100,000 each into founding 23red. They rented their first office in Carnaby Street. “It was a shabby end-of-lease place but the location was perfect,” she said.

They are equal majority shareholders, with a small percentage divided among senior management. The third founder, Adam Wylie, left 23red in 2010 to set up the Formula One sponsorship firm Vivacity.

That year the new coalition government froze its £540m a year advertising budget and cut marketing expenditure by 50%. “This forced us to balance the private and public sectors, so we were able to focus on changing audience behaviour, which we have become very good at,” said Asscher.

The firm’s ability to adapt has helped it to grow. “There are a few dinosaurs in the industry still doing 30-second TV advertising, but I’ve found that to stay relevant to clients we have to evolve and change.”

Asscher lives in Chiswick, west London, with her husband Steve Barrett, 54, a property developer. They have three children Lucy, 20, Sasha, 18, and Dan, 11.

Her advice to entrepreneurs is: “Have a vision and understand what you are aiming for but make sure you continue to revisit it. And stay nimble and relevant.”

Scoop6 shows appeal of pool betting

Scoop6 shows appeal of pool betting

The Tote’s Scoop6 bet was not won yet again on Saturday, with punters failing to get as far as just the fourth winner in the six-race bet despite nearly £1.6 million being staked.

That shows how hard it is to find all six winners, but not every Saturday is going to throw up such difficult results and there is every chance that winners will be a lot easier to find next week when the feature card if the jumps finale meeting at Sandown Park.

With an estimated £4 million in the win and bonus pools, the rewards for finding all six winners will undoubtedly offer great value as even in the rare event of all six favourites winning there is enough “dead” money in the pool to ensure a bumper payout.

On the subject of pool bets, Betfred have been mightily disappointing since taking over the Tote. The lack of new bets has been surprising, given that the Tote still has a monopoly on pool betting, and the idea that British punters do not like pool betting – which has long been suggested by bookmakers – is laughable given the interest that is attracted when the pools are a decent size.

Surely the so-called “exotic” wagers such at the Scoop6, Jackpot, Placepot etc should be the ones that Betfred are keenest to invent, but there has been a deafening silence from the company on that front.

The lack of imagination is just frightening. Take the Grand National as an example. The one race of the year that is guaranteed to attract not just a massive British audience, but ten of millions worldwide, and the Tote offer nothing that is not available on any other race.

Why not have a pool bet that requires punters to name the first six home in the correct order and guarantee £1 million in the pot. That should get some interest. You could add some healthy bonuses for picking the first five, or even the first four home. Better still, link up with the National lottery to increase the reach of the bet, albeit that may require some government legislation, but as a one-off it has to be worth trying.

Even if it was won and the £1 million guarantee was not reached in terms of turnover – which is highly unlikely if the bet was properly promoted worldwide – it would still generate terrific publicity.

If it was not won, which is highly possible given how hard that National has been to predict since the modification of the fences, there would be a massive pot which could be taken forward to other big-field handicaps. Given that Betfred would be gaining around £300,000 for every £1 million staked, it is remarkable that this sort of bet is not being created, isn’t it?

Moore is the master

Ryan Moore followed up his valuable success on Grandeur at Lingfield Park on Friday with a treble at Kempton Park.

No rider can be successful without being on good horses, but what separates the top riders from the rest is not making mistakes and in that respect Moore has no peers either on the Flat or over jumps.

On all four of those winners it would have been quite possible to get beaten. Many riders would have gone for home too soon on Grandeur, Zurigha was hard to settle in the early stages and would have continued to race too keenly had Moore not found her cover, while both Sea Shanty and Queen Of Ice were up with the pace in slowly run races and could easily have been beaten had they been held up.

Moore always seems to be in the right place at the right time and is always unflappable, both before, during and after every race. He is not champion jockey, but that is solely down to his refusal to trek around the country to ride in low-grade races. Make no mistake, he is quite outstanding.

Ribbons has a royal date

It was a disappointing Saturday in terms of quality, but one horse that caught the eye with a view to the future was Ribbons.

She was really progressive last season and made a most pleasing return to action when a staying-on second to Zurigha at Kempton Park.

That effort was all the better as she was held up in a race run at a pedestrian early gallop, but in any case she is more effective over farther.

James Fanshawe, her shrewd trainer, said afterwards that the run was “a step to a race I love” which is the Windsor Forest Stakes at Royal Ascot. Those words will be well worth remembering come the middle of June.

This is what I do

This is what I do

I played a bit of poker at college, but I was 23 before I got serious about the game. I’m from Killybegs, in Co Donegal, and I have a degree in business studies from Sligo Institute of Technology, as well as a diploma in sports recreation.

I didn’t really plan to do anything when I came out of college and then one of my friends suggested I try a game of poker. Straightaway, I was fascinated by it.

I have a sports background, so I liked the competitive nature and the mind games. I also liked the banter at the table. I played in a few tournaments and ended up winning one. The prize was Ir£1,000 (€1,200). I also played cash games and early on won a similar amount. I then moved to Dublin and started winning more in a week than I would earn in months.

I was lucky enough to win the Macau leg of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour early in my career. It was in 2009 and I was 23 or 24. I’m 29 now. The prize was more than $500,000 (€362,000). I went there to play with a friend and I won my seat at the main competition in a satellite game.

When you start off, you don’t have much money, so you try to “satellite” your way in. For that tournament, a seat was $5,000, and for every 10 seats bought, one person was allowed to win a satellite place in a separate competition where entry was $500. The goal is not to win the money, but to win a seat. You also get a hotel room, expenses and a goody bag; you could end up there for three days.

Cash games have fixed blinds — the amount put into the pot. That’s how betting starts and the game doesn’t change all night. In a tournament, you play with chips and the blinds are increased all the time, which forces the action. That can make tournaments very exciting. They attract a lot of recreational players, as everyone has a chance at winning. Cash games are more suitable for professionals and I’ve played them where the blind starts off as high as €1,500 per player.

As a professional, you have to take it seriously and a huge part of that is managing your money. One of the first things I did was build a house back home in Donegal. My next goal is to buy an apartment in Dublin. I made mistakes along the way, but that’s how you learn.

When people ask me for tips, I always say play a lot — don’t be afraid to play a lot of hands. It’s a repetitive game, so the more often you play and the more often you make wrong decisions, the more you can analyse where you went wrong.

One of the best things about poker is that if you are a novice, you could just sit down at a tournament next to a guy you may have seen play on television. It’s not as though poker players are idols, but if you’re a fan of sport, you’re never going to have a chance to play alongside Brian O’Driscoll or Robbie Keane. With poker, you just pay your money and take a seat.

Blain is an ambassador for and will be taking part in the UK and Ireland Poker Tour event in Nottingham from May 7 to 12

Casino sues poker professional over $9.6m ‘cheat’

Casino sues poker professional over $9.6m ‘cheat’

An American casino is suing one of the world’s most notorious card players, alleging that he won $9.6 million while cheating at baccarat.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, in Atlantic City, has alleged that Phillip Ivey Jr, a champion poker player, exploited a defect in its cards, which gave him an illegal advantage.

Last year, Mr Ivey was accused of using the same technique – known as “edge sorting” – at Crockfords, the venerable Mayfair gaming club, to win more than £7 million. On both occasions he was allegedly accompanied by a young Chinese associate known as Kelly, said to be an expert at identifying playing card design flaws.

The backs of the cards had been imperfectly printed, with the pattern becoming asymmetrical.

Both casinos allege that Mr Ivey and Kelly instructed dealers to arrange cards in particular ways. After several hands, valuable cards were arranged with the irregular side of the card facing in a specific direction — allowing Mr Ivey to spot them as they emerged from the dealer chute.

Mr Ivey – who has been dubbed the Tiger Woods of poker – has admitted to edge sorting at Crockfords while playing punto banco, a type of baccarat based purely on luck.

Initially, he was betting £50,000 a hand at Crockfords. However, after the cards had been identified through their flaws, he asked the casino’s permission to raise the maximum stake to £150,000.

Mr Ivey has maintained that Crockfords was well aware of how edge sorting is exploited by co-called “advantage players” such as himself. The casino should not have used faulty cards, he has argued.

Cantor’s spread-betting is the talk of the town

Cantor’s spread-betting is the talk of the town

Instead of the trades that might make them money, some of London’s smartest punters were more interested in the future of one of the shops that takes their bets. They heard (and passed on) rumours that Cantor Fitzgerald, the American brokerage house that mopped up Seymour Pierce last year, is about to offload its spread-betting and contacts for difference, or CFD, business.

The idea, according to those who thought themselves in the know, is that Charles Knott — the man who runs that business and a specialist in dealing for what the City likes to call “high-net-worth” individuals — will carve it out of Cantor.

Cantor would concentrate then on institutional broking and market-making, while its CFD and spread-betting business is dropped wholesale into Solo Capital, an acquisitive boutique financial services group with connections to India and the Middle East.

The plan, purportedly, is then to roll in Old Park Lane Capital, the broking house founded and run by Michael Parnes, son of Anthony Parnes, the millionaire stockbroker nicknamed “The Animal” who became embroiled in the Guinness scandal in the 1980s. Old Park Lane brings settlement facilities and regulatory licences to any combined entity.

Otherwise, the wider stock market trod water. Again. The FTSE 100 drifted 12 points lower to 6,792.2, with traders reluctant to take meaty positions before the latest update on the Federal Reserve’s thinking today and before Scotland decides whether to remain part of the United Kingdom tomorrow. Stock markets across Europe nursed similar, modest losses.

Among those weighing on London was ARM Holdings, off 18p at 920p after the Nasdaq endured its worst day since July on Monday. America’s technology investors were said to be clearing the decks for the market debut of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, at the end of the week.

SABMiller, whose merger ambitions were knocked back by Heineken within the past fortnight, slid 79p to £36.61 after it emerged that no takeover talks were happening, for now, with Anheuser-Busch InBev, the biggest drinks group of all. Still with the drinks industry and Punch Taverns was 3.9 per cent higher at 9.35p. Today, finally, the company should be given the go-ahead for a painful debt-for-equity swap after years of talks with bondholders.

Back in the Footsie, Pearson, the publisher of textbooks, ran 20p higher to £12.26 after a push by Morgan Stanley, while miners were underpinned by positive research from Deutsche Bank. Oil shares were buoyed by a jump in crude prices after Opec signalled a production cut and Libya curbed output. Royal Dutch Shell’s B shares rose 19½p to £24.99½.

On AIM, TXO jumped 38.7 per cent to 0.215p after a contract to process waste oil with a company in which it invests was extended. For TXO bulls, that offered proof that the potentially highly lucrative technology works.

Thalassa Holdings was thumped 41½p, or nearly 23 per cent, to 139p after a horrible profit warning. Blaming sanctions against Russia and a new chief executive at a Russian state-owned customer of its seismic surveys, the energy services company is struggling to convert its pipeline into revenue. In response, WH Ireland hacked back its target price for the shares from 400p to 260p.

Investors go where action is

There was plenty of action in Action Hotels as investors in London checked into the only listed Middle Eastern hotels group.

Sheikh Mubarak, its founder and chairman, is a member of the Kuwaiti ruling family. He delivered a maiden set of interim results this week that drew applause from investors who had backed the business when it floated on AIM last December, among them Andy Brough, the Schroders star fund manager, and L&G.

Revenues were higher. So, too, were occupancy levels and the value of Action’s half-dozen hotels. Less gold taps and polar bear-skin rugs, Action focuses on the Middle East’s mid-market, taking in brands such as Premier Inn, Holiday Inn and Ibis.

Unusually, Action develops, builds and owns its hotels, but lets its brand partners look after marketing, operations and other “front of house” functions. A further nine hotels are under construction in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Both Sanlam and finnCap were pushing Action shares that made their debut at 64p and settled at 69½p yesterday, valuing the company at north of £102 million.

Wall Street report

A rise in oil prices was the cue for energy stocks to climb on Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones industrial average back towards the record-breaking territory of last month. At the close, the Dow stood on 17,131.97 points, up 100.83.