The Clear way

Global advertising and entertainment company Clear Channel is making serious inroads into… well, just about everything. Steve Hoare reports on a legal team with its fingers in a lot of different pies

You may not know Clear Channel, but you soon will. International group counsel and company secretary Selina Emeny compares the company with IT giant Cisco Systems. “You’ve never heard of them,” she says, “but once you become aware of them you notice that they’re absolutely everywhere.”

The company owns 12,000 billboards across the UK. It has 40,000 advertising panels at bus stops. It advertises on 10,000 taxi cabs in the UK. It organises events such as the Prince’s Trust Party in the Park and the UK’s newest major rock event, the Download Festival. In a typical year it will organise 200 music tours, including recently those by Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, David Bowie and U2.

The company organised 673 theatre shows in 2003 and owns 22 UK theatres. It owns Donnington Park, home of the UK motorcycle Grand Prix, and it manages 36 local authority health and leisure centres. Perhaps, most famously, it also owns SFX Sports Group, the agency that manages the commercial affairs of legions of high-profile sportsmen and women.

Emeny joined More Group UK (now Clear Channel UK) in 1999, originally on secondment from Edge Ellison (now Hammonds). The group has thousands of advertising billboards throughout the UK and felt it needed a commercial property lawyer.

Within two weeks of starting her three-month placement, Emeny told David Oliver, Clear Channel UK’s financial director, that she wanted the job permanently. She said she was better qualified than anyone that the company would get through advertising but that, as a young mother of four children, she wanted to work a four-day week.

“Oliver told me that he was an ‘output person, not an input person’,” says Emeny. “He said, ‘I don’t care how you get the job done, so long as you get the job done and everybody’s happy’.” She immediately knew she had found a kindred soul and promptly signed up.

“It was a step back because they were re-cruiting at a much more junior level to me, but I really loved it and I only did about 2 per cent property in the first two years.

Anything legal came across my desk: employment issues, a string of corporate acquisitions…” says Emeny.

Emeny began a fairly rapid ascent in her Clear Channel career. By August 2001 she was group counsel and company secretary of Clear Channel International and Clear Channel Entertainment. The two groups cover billboard and taxi advertising, music, theatre, health and leisure and the sports agency business SFX. Both have four shared functions – tax, treasury, IT and legal – and report in to stateside parents.

Since then, Emeny has set about building the legal function. Her first recruit was Sam Rush from Bird & Bird. From January 2002, Rush became the sole lawyer responsible for the legal affairs of Clear Channel Entertainment’s sport and theatre groups. Rush had become increasingly involved in football transfers and commercial deals at SFX and in September 2003 he was promoted to chief operating officer of the company.

Clear Channel acquired the sports group in 1999. Sport is the only group within Clear Channel that has retained its original ‘SFX Sports Group’ brand. While the sports group is probably the smallest business within Clear Channel, its high-profile clients, which include former England cricket captains, a plethora of football internationals, television presenters and top tennis stars, ensure that it will never be far from the limelight.

Rush continues to provide SFX with legal advice, but also draws on the expertise of the Clear Channel legal function. He previously reported to Emeny but now reports to SFX chairman John Holmes.

Rush’s replacement on sports, Nick Andrews, was also recruited from his old firm Bird & Bird. Theatre work is covered by Pamela Morgan, while Clare Brennan completes the four-person legal team. While they are all assigned certain parts of the business, they each cover “everything and anything”, according to Emeny.

“As a department, we’re teeny-weeny for the amount of companies that we service,” she says. Clear Channel International operates in 57 countries and Clear Channel Entertainment in eight. “Everybody as a matter of course has to know everything about every business,” she continues. There is no place for specialisation in the Clear Channel legal function.

“Everybody goes out to all the venues. They go out to concerts to see how they’re set up. I went to see how Download was set up at Donnington Park,” says Emeny. ‘Tough work’, you may think – but it is not all glamour. “Everyone goes to clean the bus shelter and goes to see posters being posted. Every aspect of the business is so quirky. So they completely understand what they’re doing,” she continues. “All the stuff I send out is high value or too technical or too time-consuming.” Property work is outsourced due to the time it takes, for example. Corporate acquisitions are also always outsourced because “there’s so many clever ways to buy a company”; and litigation is outsourced for similar reasons.

A great deal of this work goes back to Emeny’s old firm Hammonds, which she uses as a one-stop shop. “The benefits are that I know exactly who I want and I have a relationship with all of them,” she explains.

Slaughter and May advises on the largest corporate deals. The firm has had a close personal relationship with Roger Pary, chief executive of Clear Channel International. “We had a particularly busy period 18 months or so ago, where we bought two taxi [advertising] companies. We bought billboard companies. In entertainment we bought agencies and promoters. It was a rapid expansion. Now we’re bedding down and aiming for organic growth,” says Emeny.

Emeny turns to Schillings for defamation and libel issues, but the Hammonds connections endure at Clear Channel’s other firms. Lewis Silkin reaped the rewards of recruiting Hammonds litigation partner Peter Morris and niche firm SK Sport & Entertainment has former Edge Ellison partner Jeremy Summers, who manages all of Clear Channel’s trademarks worldwide.

Despite a willingness to outsource all that is out of the ordinary, the team tries to cover as much as it possibly can in-house. The range of events it organises raises a whole range of contractual issues with artists, suppliers (of the lights, stage, sound system and more) and vendors. There are various different ways of getting paid, such as sponsorship, and often these events are joint ventures.

There are, though, ways of making this easier. “I’m obsessed with standard documentation,” Emeny states. “It empowers all the people that aren’t lawyers to go out and do things with confidence.” If it then becomes too technical, the legal team is called upon; or if there are quibbles over a clause that is not negotiable, then Emeny will be called in to argue the point.

The company is very decentralised. At Clear Channel International, all 57 countries sort out their own legalities, and if they need a lawyer they will find it themselves. If there is a corporate issue, then Emeny will intervene. If she needs to find a corporate lawyer in a jurisdiction where she has little experience, she often relies on a recommendation from Hammonds, or she will turn to Baker & McKenzie, a longstanding legal services provider for the US parent.

“This is a new department,” says Emeny. “We’re almost victims of our own success because every day we get more and more work. We send out quite a bit, but it’s all about having your external lawyers under control and knowing exactly what they’re doing.”

Every external instruction goes through Emeny. She receives monthly reports from each of her firms, but is keen to get even closer to them. She claims to be extremely strict on billing, and the manner in which she says it makes you believe her. “One thing that I particularly want to do is get online work-in-progress and seeing where I am with bills being paid and tracking them,” she reveals.

The enabling power of technology is a subject close to Emeny’s heart. She loves her Blackberry and would welcome any technical innovation that makes her workload lighter. With SK Sport & Entertainment managing Clear Channel’s international trademark portfolio, for example, she can track the status of any trademark application online.

With such a range of issues to cover, Emeny appreciates all the support she can get. This is not just external support but also support from colleagues. “I have massive support,” she says. “If I go with something and it goes wrong, people don’t say, ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ It’s this huge belief and support and trust in what I do.”

For an ultra-busy mother of four, this provides Emeny with the confidence to successfully manage a dynamic team.

Selina Emeny
International group counsel and company secretary
Clear Channel

Organisation Clear Channel
Sector Advertising and entertainment
Turnover $1.5bn (£868.4m) (excluding the US)
Annual legal spend £1m-£1.5m
Internation group counsel and company secretary Selina Emeny
Reporting to The boards of Clear Channel International and Clear Channel Outdoor
Legal capability Four
Main law firms: Hammonds, Lewis Silkin, SK Sport & Entertainment and Slaughter and May