Magazine article Marketing

Millennium Dame

Magazine article Marketing

Millennium Dame

Article excerpt

Niki Akhurst does not look like a former rugby player. The new marketing director of the DTI's Action 2000 Millennium Bug Campaign, set up to tackle the year 2000 date-change problem, is of average height, has a slim build and all her features in the right place. She is an even more unlikely looking prop - in the men's version that's the fat bastard at the back. "No, I haven't lost a lot of weight since then," she volunteers, "I was just very strong".

Marketing consultancy Master Guide, where she worked in the late 80s and early 90s, asked her to give up the sport: "They didn't think it was a good idea for clients to see their account handler with two black eyes or whatever," she says.

Thirty-three-year-old Akhurst is such a recent arrival at Action 2000 that she has to use a visitor's pass to get into her office in the DTI building in Victoria. It is her 15th day in the job and she is between meetings with the agencies competing for her [pounds]10m budget, and is working her way through a long list of seven COI roster agencies.

Her brief is to convince UK businesses of the importance of tackling the Millennium Bug before it is too late. The problem relates to computers and other systems that use two digits for their internal calenders. When the year changes from 99 to 00, they will not be able to differentiate between 2000 and 1900 and are likely to crash, produce indecipherable data or stop working. Theoretically, the Millennium Bug could affect every microprocessor in the country: from the systems that pay wages, control our bank accounts and supply us with running writer, gas and electricity, to those responsible for operating central heating systems, videos, fridges, microwaves and fax machines.

There are no reliable figures as to the cost of fixing the bug. Estimates range from [pounds]2bn to [pounds]52bn, which came from the head of Taskforce 2000, Action 2000's predecessor. Unilever alone reckons on spending [pounds]300m to eliminate the problem.

Akhurst has several key messages to get out to different audiences. While most corporations have been getting their systems Millennium-ready for some time, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), on which the economy depends, are dragging their heels. According to a recent survey of SMEs by Action 2000, awareness of "something called the Millennium Bug is at 98%, but they don't have an understanding of the implications, or of what the Millennium Bug is. …

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