Lee Price, Head of PR & Mischief at Paddy Power & Adam Walker, Brand Manager at GO!
From tongue-in-cheek to thought provoking, Paddy Power is redefining standards when it comes to advertising within the gambling sector. At times proving that you don’t have to talk about gambling to drive brand engagement. Adam and Lee sat down (via Zoom) to talk through what makes Paddy Power’s creative process tick, how they measure the success of their campaigns and how they work with agencies.
AW: Easy one to kick off, can you broadly talk me through what your role involves at Paddy Power across day-to-day, month to month?
LP: Yes, I’m a professional attention seeker. I’m head of PR and Mischief, which is earning and generating brand fame for Paddy Power, it’s driving conversations, earning talkability and doing interesting shit.
AW: Nice. Would you say those are your key metrics to measure success in your role?
LP: PR is notoriously difficult to truly measure. Generally, we know what is successful, but the key metrics will include social engagement, plus the quantity and quality of press coverage.
There is this intangible piece that I am trying to make quantifiable which is knowing that you have seeped into public consciousness, even for an hour or a day or a week. That one you just know because it happened, but you can’t put that on a report to the big dogs.
AW: A lot of your campaigns are very tongue-in-cheek with an aim to capture people’s attention, recently more thought-provoking campaigns are being featured. What was the decision process behind adopting this method and what has been the knock-on effect of that change?
LP: It is important to acknowledge straight away that the ‘Missing Fans’ campaign is very different for Paddy Power – but, then, that was part of the appeal.
We do not ever want to be formulaic or predictable and as a brand, we have evolved a lot over the last decade. From something approaching “laddish” to something more sophisticated. Others perceive our brand to be where it was 10 years ago and are surprised when we do something that is sharp-witted or daring.
One of our key brand pillars is to be provocative, and this campaign veers away from that slightly, more towards surprising, being on the side of the fans and using our platform for good. The reason we did it is because people still talk about what Paddy Power have done, we are in the public’s consciousness but rather than reacting to a gag, reveal or spoof, we have surprised them with something more poignant.
AW: Absolutely, and it’s been received incredibly well!
It was a similar situation with the ‘Save Our Shirt’ campaign. Introducing the brand as ruining the kit coupled with a lot of negative press but then the “big reveal” set a whole new train of thought in motion around sponsorship. When you start this brainstorm of ideas, what does that process look like?
LP: It isn’t a brainstorm or a process, it’s more of an always-on approach where we are constantly talking about issues within football (being football fans helps) and it is very much just constant gags and ideas.
Every now and again something comes up and it’s just right. It’s not exactly a blueprint on how to create ideas but I don’t believe that any idea is nailed in a pitch. There is never a perfect idea and that’s ok. What I do think is important is finding that initial thought or insight and going: “Yes. That’s right, now how do we do it?”
There are three stages. 1. The initial idea 2. The activation and then, 3. Call to action or the end result. I think ‘Save Our Shirt’ is a great example of that, we actually started with the end result which was “Why don’t we un-brand a football club?”
This was simple. A lot of bookies are doing the opposite. The middle took us a while to find and then eventually we landed on the idea of a hoax. It was perfect the moment we heard it because we know our brand well enough, to know that people would assume that Paddy Power would be stupid enough to actually try and do this.
AW: Well, it worked! Paddy Power praise their agencies a lot. This process you mentioned, are the agencies involved at that stage or do you work with them once you have the idea?
LP: It is very collaborative. Generally, we would give a brief to several agencies, usually someone we have already worked with and a couple of newbies. They then respond with a pitch presentation, pretty standard. We then try to build on those ideas with the agency and offer feedback.
Quite often the solution comes internally from Paddy Power but not always. I think it’s more because we know our brand really well and we do work with our agencies on the creative side of things which may surprise a few people as a lot of big brands will just leave it all to the agencies, but we’re not like that.
AW: You mentioned you do multiple pitches, does that mean you work with different agencies per campaign and does that help mix things up?
LP: Yeah, we have a retained ad agency. They obviously try and support on mischief stuff, VCCP worked with us on Save Our Shirt too, so that’s a good example of that crossover.
Generally, though, with PR and mischief, it’s an open-door policy and that’s just because I think a good idea can come from anywhere. The Hector Bellerin tree planting idea we did a couple months ago came from a guy on our blog. I don’t believe in limiting our options.
That’s probably not music to the ears of agencies who obviously want retainers and I understand why but we do pay for ideation for briefs and then if they do land, we would pay for an idea.
AW: With the PR and Mischief Paddy Power creates, you want to give everyone a chance to chip in on ideas to keep it fresh. I think a question a lot of agencies might like to hear the answer to is, what do you look for when you’re choosing a new agency like that?
LP: So, when we approach new agencies, it’s probably because we’ve seen something interesting that they’ve done recently because we look for different style of thinking.
So in a pitch it doesn’t have to be the perfect idea because we can always build on something but there’s nothing worse than sitting in an agency pitch and all the ideas are just obvious or too safe and it feels like they’ve put 10 seconds of thought into them.
My favourite kind of ideas, apart from the winners, are the ones where you instantly think ‘that is absolutely mental!’ and ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ That’s what I’m looking for, I’m looking for my head to fall off.
I want to be terrified by them, I first heard the insight for the Save our Shirt Campaign from an agency called Octagon. They said: “Bookies are all over advertising on shirts, you should do the opposite.” My head sort of went, that is brave, that will piss off our industry and I will 100% need sign off from the big boss.
When we have these ideas, I want to share them with my colleagues internally. I want it to prompt a reaction – there is nothing worse than vanilla or cliché thinking, I want my mind blown.
AW: At Paddy Power you do seem to have a lot of creative freedom. Who draws the line on what’s acceptable and what’s not?
LP: If you find out, let me know!
Ultimately, I’m head of Mischief and there is a chain involved which leads all the way up to the CEO. That does not happen all the time but, as an example, that happened with the Save Our Shirt campaign. When I first started I thought it was a bit of a pain but, actually, I think it’s a good sign that it has to go to the top, as it shows that we are operating right on the edge, operating in a territory that few other brands can get to.
AW: I bet there are quite a few campaigns that have never seen the light of day, can you tell us about any?
LP: I feel like when I look at the back catalogue of our best work, one half is the stuff that got signed off and the other half is amazing stuff that didn’t. When I do look back on it the ideas that didn’t happen, there’s a certain level of fondness. Unfortunately, I can’t talk through them on here so will have to be over an off-the-record gin. Sorry readers.
The truth is, when you are in this territory and we’re speaking about where your head might fall off, the odds are probably stacked against you. It probably has a one in three chance of happening, but that is why it’s so exciting. That’s why they’re the right ideas, but it does also mean we have to sense-check, as the context and the timing is everything. At certain times being provocative or brave isn’t ideal. We are a big business, after all, and sometimes a business’ needs are more important than a PR campaign or a bit of mischief.
AW: When you’re looking through that book of work you’ve got, what piece of work are you most proud of?
LP: Save our Shirt is an obvious answer but the other one I’m really proud of is what we did for the 2018 World Cup, called Rainbow Russians. There was a plethora of issues you could talk about, hooliganism, travel, Putin, all the usual stuff, but no one was talking about LGBTQ+ rights. And there was a rainbow-coloured elephant in the room, so we harpooned the elephant.
We donated money to a LGBTQ+ charity every time Russia scored, meaning Russia was directly funding the improvement of gay rights worldwide, which was lovely. The best thing was that Russia had a fantastic World Cup, so we ended up donating probably three or four times more than what we budgeted for, which was great. And, obviously, the coverage was amazing. I appeared on CNN in America in a Russia shirt! W won awards for the campaign but the best thing about it was that it was brave. It was on the right side of history and Paddy Power has quite a big footprint in LGBTQ+ issues and rights. I think it’s important for brands to keep doing that, you can’t just do one thing then disappear.
AW: Paddy Power do a lot within the LGBTQ+ community and have been doing so for years from the rainbow laces all the way up. Is it hard to work out what to do next to support the community?
LP: The key for us is not to do something just for the sake of it. There is plenty that we do behind closed doors, so it doesn’t just look like a campaign. We sponsored Brighton Pride, our float was a bus carrying all the openly gay male Premier League footballers on, so it was empty. There’s plenty of ways of being inventive around an issue.
AW: There is a lot of bad press currently, around the morality of advertising within the betting industry. What is your take on it?
LP: Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. And I think, just like with drinking or any other thing that people like, people are allowed to dislike it. When it gets out of control, that’s not a good thing for anyone. I don’t think it benefits the gambling industry to have problem gamblers. We are constantly working on how we can support and encourage response gambling. It is very hard to be perfect but how can you solve an issue overnight? I think it is a fair thought and it needs to be taken on the chin for now until it improves. Thankfully, I think our marketing is less in your face in terms of odds, odds, odds! That doesn’t exclude it from criticism, but we just try to do the right things behind the scenes and be more like an entertainment brand.
AW: Your answer proves that more than anything. Paddy Power do try to be as far away from a ‘gambling brand’ as possible. You don’t spend a lot of time talking about metrics but more trying to create a reaction with funny or thought-provoking campaigns. It’s quite refreshing to see in such a numbers driven market.
LP: I guess people who criticise us normally say: ‘it’s a cynical attempt to stand out by not doing what everybody else does’… but that’s certainly not the way we think – none of our success metrics on my campaigns are based on customer signups or how many bets are placed. We of course do an element of that sort promotion because we are a business, let’s face it. I do all the spokesperson slots on the likes of talkSPORT but if I can avoid saying too many numbers, that’s a good thing. It’s not always easy, we are a bookie, that is what we do, but we strive to strike a balance on that.
AW: If you could, what would you change about your industry?
LP: I mean, here is the magic wand moment, I would eliminate all the random brands from God knows where who just stick logos on football shirts because the fans of that club have no idea what it says or where it’s from.
I would reduce the shouty talking heads and the numbers, numbers, numbers style advertising. I’m not saying everyone must be Paddy Power, because they don’t, but just think outside the box a bit more.
Those are my two wishes. For my third wish I’d probably say immortality.
AW: Lastly, if you weren’t working for Paddy Power, what brand would you like to work for?
LP: Interesting, it’s hard to picture working anywhere else but I guess there are two that come to mind. I love football so maybe doing marketing for a football club, I guess that would be quite fun.
Secondly, I would love to work for Red Bull, their sugar free Red Bull gets me through the days especially when you have two kids under the age of three! It’s probably a bit of a cliché answer but at the same time, they’re clearly marketing experts. They own their own football clubs; they have their own Formula 1 team.
So… I think it would be either in football, Formula 1 or just drinking Red Bull professionally.
AW: I don’t blame you there! Thank you so much for your time and incredible insights into the world of Paddy Power, PR and mischief. We cannot wait to see what the brand does next!
by Adam Walker
Published date: August 26 2020