March 12, 2010
PokerStars-Lotus Campaign Shows PR How to Turn a Four-Month Lay-Off into a Media Coverage Bonanza
By Jim Bucci
For the first time in its history, play at 2008's World Series of Poker would be suspended prior to a champion being crowned. There would be four months—117 days—before players returned to Las Vegas and to the poker table to battle for the Main Event title and the top prize of $9.1 million.
Narrowed down from a starting field of nearly 7,000 competitors, nine players would battle at the Final Table for millions of dollars and bragging rights as the best poker player in the world.
With the increased coverage of poker events, the popularity of online poker and the game having turned into a spectator sport over the past few years Pros have become celebrities, with fans all over the world entering into expensive tournaments for the chance to play with them.
The last man standing at the World Series of Poker wouldn't simply walk away from the table with $9 million, the title as the best player in the world, but would be thrown into the celebrity arena.
PokerStars, the largest online poker cardroom in the world, gained sponsorship for six of the remaining nine players. They brought in Lotus PR for a public relations campaign to land name recognition for the company and its players.
The grandmasters of poker, millions of dollars up for grabs—it had all the makings of great headlines.
The Challenge: How to capitalize on four months of downtime to drum up media interest for the six remaining players at the World Series of Poker. While the players waited and dreamed up what they would do with the $9 million if they won, the Lotus PR team wasn't going to let the downtime go to waste. "We've been working with PokerStars for the last four years, and it was the first time in the history of the World Series of Poker where they were going to do a live event four months later," explains Lotus PR CEO and Founder Susan Lindner. "We wanted to get as much visibility for these players as possible."
But, with players representing countries from around the world, from Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles, California to Odense, Denmark and Moscow, Russia, coordinating coverage would be difficult.
"We had a challenge of all the logistics, of coordinating coverage of players in the U.S., but also from around the world," says Lindner.
The strategy: Tell the players' stories—turn them from the faceless and nameless and into the familiar: Lotus PR began crafting media pitches focused on the players' personal stories, including what they would do with the prize money. "We wanted to tell their back story, and to attract the average viewer with their story of the 'Average Joe' sitting down to play poker to win a seat at the World Series of Poker," says Lindner.
"We told their individual stories, but we also gave the entire group name recognition by branding them and referring to them as the 'PokerStars 6,'" she says.
The results: Coverage in hundreds of papers, millions of hits nailed and almost 300,000 new online players signed up at PokerStars.net. The media was fascinated by a list of nine players being whittled down from 7,000. Seven Associated Press stories resulted, all running in hundreds of papers and nailing millions of hits online at sites like Yahoo! News. Additional coverage came in top outlets like the New York Times, USA Today and the Miami Herald. The PokerStars players also appeared on TV morning shows around the country.
It all drove interest in the game and the business of poker. During the four-month period in the lead up to the Final Table, almost 300,000 new players signed up at PokerStars.net.
"I think this campaign was unique for its time because they'd done the World Series of Poker the same way for the past 30 years," offers Lindner. "We also outmatched the coverage for the other three contestants, which there wasn't much of."
Secrets for success: Read on as Lindner offers more tips and explains why this campaign won Bronze in "Best Company Positioning/Branding" at the 2009 Bulldog Awards for Excellence in Media Relations and Publicity.
Use media training to turn your shy clients into stars. "As poker players, these individuals weren't used to the national media attention," says Lindner. "We needed to get them out of their shell a bit. So, media training was very important with this campaign, to make the players comfortable with all the national media attention. The training was all run in-house by members of Lotus PR."
Limit media packages to one-page productions. "We used one-pagers, which contained player bios and profile information about the poker players and their likes and dislikes," she says. "It told their story on a one-page graph that wasn't just a list of bulleted items. We also used photos of all varieties as well."
Focus on your clients' business goals. Don't forget the business objectives of your client," she suggests. "We saw that we could really make an impact for the business of PokerStars and we did by gaining almost 300,000 new sign-ups for PokerStars.net."
WINNER'S PROFILE: Founded in 2002, Lotus Public Relations specializes in PR for technology, gaming, financial services and venture capital, travel and new media sectors.