How to get more money

The Mole had spent the morning with The Bean Counters and was in a rather dark mood - as usually happened when the talk turns to budgets. It is the fate of the desk men to have to deal with such things while the average agent does not care about money. He needs what he needs to do the job. The problem these days is that thanks to the efforts of the Al-Qaeda folk, the Secret Intelligence Service is spending its money in different ways and the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department comes a long way down the pecking order.

"Ever since we swapped 'Tinpot Dictators' for 'Trade Development' the budgets have been coming down," grumbled The Mole. "Everyone is forgetting that Britain needs to defend its great motorsport industry."

"It seems to me that if we need more cash we should find some more connections between the sport and terrorism," said Penelope (Roedean). If we can do that. The cash will come. It is about creating the right image. What we really need is a team owner who is either a big arms dealer, a drug baron, a mobster or Osama bin Laden."

"I would have thought that that is the last thing the sport needs," said The Mole.

"I'm not talking about sport," said Penelope. "This is business. You think decisions in this game are made because it is good for the sport?"

"Of course not," said The Mole. "We all know that money rules."

"So if we need some more cash, we have to find something to investigate," said Penelope. "It's really such a shame that Williams is no longer sponsored by the Saudi Bin Laden Group.

"You know the company is currently building what will be the tallest skyscraper in the world in Dubai?" said The Mole. "A certain irony in that."

"I suppose we could write a report about Williams's mysterious funding," said Penelope.

"Yes, but it is from Jenson Button!" said The Mole.

"I know that. You know that, but the government doesn't know that!" said Penelope.

"Yes but Frank and Patrick don't look like terrorists," said The Mole.

Penelope smiled.

"I guess you should ask the Williams staff," she said. "Patrick frightens me!"

"That is a ridiculous and dishonest idea," said The Mole. "But very creative."

He paused for a moment.

"What else have you got?" he added.

"Well, it seems what we need is just a bit of mystery," Penelope said. "These car companies are all a bit dull and worthy, aren't they? All a bit corporate. Alex Shnaider was good but the Dutch lot seem quite sensible although there is one of the consortium who got into some hot water a while back because he was selling submarines to Taiwan and such places. It is a good story. This guy was a scrap metal dealer who went on to buying defunct companies tarting them up and selling them on. Eventually he got to be big enough to buy the Rotterdamse Droogdok Maatschappij."

"Try saying that while eating spaghetti," said The Mole.

"It used to be a government-owned armaments company with its fingers in warships, electronics, munitions, and spare parts for aircraft. Holland may not go to war much but it is one of the top arms-exporting countries in the world. Anyway this guy did all the right deals but then in pursuit of better returns started getting into greyer areas with submarines for Taiwan and tanks for Chile."

"That's promising," said The Mole. "But it is not really sufficiently Al-Qaeda-ish."

There was a pause.

"Well," said Penelope. "I suppose we could look at merchandising."

"What?" said The Mole.

"Branded goods," said Penelope. "You know. 'I'm a Penelope' and 'The Mole is watching you' T-shirts for F1 fans. Handbags with gun pockets. Accessories. That sort of stuff."

"Branding?" said The Mole. "We're a secret organisation!"

"Yeah, but MI6 has a website now," said Penelope. "You have to look to the future. There is money out there. Look, there are a number of groups fighting over who owns the rights to James Bond for the sole reason that it is big business. The SIS owns the rights to MI6 and it makes sense for them to start exploiting the brand."

The Mole shook his head.

"I don't really see why people want to buy branded goods," he grumbled.

"It is called modern culture," said Penelope, rolling her eyes. "It's really very simple. It is about sex. People are like sheep. They like to follow one another. They want to be look like cool people so that other people will think they really are cool and that will get them more sex.

"And who decides what is cool?" said The Mole.

"Whether you like it or not, celebrities define cool," said Penelope. "The world is obsessed by celebrity, So the public follows celebrity on the principle that people need people to look up to."

"Even if those people are dim soccer stars, brainless models and dissolute socialites?" said The Mole.

"And film stars," said Penelope. "These are people who lead lives that normal people dream of living. It is really only about selling dreams. And that is why we should be in that business. Formula 1 is sexy. Spies are sexy. Combine the two and you get us. And we should sell. We are cool and we should exploit that."

"Cool?" said The Mole. "I am cool?"

"Well, no, not really," said Penelope. "But the concept of you is dead cool."

"The concept of me?" said The Mole with a shrug.

"Well, if Flavio Briatore can be cool, anyone can be cool," said Penelope. "He's is about as cool as a cup of tepid tea, but people think he is glamorous and he is smart enough to work out how to turn their ideas into money. That is what this Billionaire brand thing is all about. Flav opened a ridiculously expensive restaurant which he visits from time to time with a few celebrities in tow. One of his partners is a TV agent called Lele Mora and so there is always a platoon of stunning little starlets available at a moment's notice. They probably have a barracks for them somewhere in Porto Cervo. Every now and then they have a party and a few big name stars show up, lured by the promise of publicity disguised as exclusivity. And then for the rest of the time the place is filled with wannabe billionaires paying $500 to book a table and countless thousands for dinner. It's all about open shirts, gold medallions and pneumatic babes in short dresses. They show up at Billionaire looking for film stars to look at them but end up all looking at each other.

"It has been so successful, so they say, that Flav is moving the brand into clothes, publishing, TV and probably one day franchising as well. As long as there are stupid people in the world he will make a fortune.

"Formula 1 has no idea about this branding stuff," Penelope went on. "It is amazing. There is Ferrari. That's the biggest brand in F1 and it is much bigger than the F1 brand itself. Ferrari builds expensive brash cars for fat businessmen with gold medallions and bimbo girlfriends. A Ferrari is part of the uniform. Bernie is beginning to understand this stuff and is selling things with F1 logos. It will take time but it will pay off. McLaren is a sort of a brand because of the expensive road cars it has built. Red Bull is a big brand because it is cheap, dangerous and subversive. But look at Renault. The company builds dull family cars. Carlos Ghosn has understood this and he's got this guy from Renault UK to go over to Paris and start planning a range of sexy machines to use the "Renault F1" brand.

"What about Williams?" said The Mole.

"Ah," said Penelope. "Now that is a company with potential."

"Like us?" said The Mole.

"Like us," said Penelope.

October 12 2006

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