Paddy Power The Kings of PR

16.03.20

 

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Paddy Power reveals the secrets behind its most successful campaigns – a guide to in-house PR success.

 

Background 

 

Paddy Power Betfair is one of the leading online bookmakers in the UK. The company was established in Ireland in 1988 after three local bookmakers joined forces and it quickly built up a nationwide network of high street stores. For years, it has been Ireland’s leading bookies chain.

 

The company has been at the forefront of the online betting revolution and has become celebrated for its playful, irreverent style and innovative use of social media.

 

Here, with the assistance of Rachael Kane, head of Irish PR at Paddy Power, we explain in detail how the company’s most famous stunts came into being and how they generated enormous media interest. Plus, we take a deep dive into what makes them tick.

 

The company has proved to be a visionary and nimble operator when it comes to generating PR and its bold style has spawned several imitators.

 

The Paddy Power PR Rulebook

 

Rachael Kane is head of Irish PR at Paddy Power. She has worked with the firm since January 2018. Prior to that, she spent 10 as a news reporter with Ireland’s popular tabloid newspaper, the Irish Daily Star and, before that, she worked with The Irish Field, the country’s leading bloodstock, horse racing and sport horse publication.

 

“The rule is there are no rules,” she says, “particularly when it comes to Paddy Power. But we probably get away with a far more relaxed approach to things because we’re a casual kind of brand. Plus, our mischievous nature means that people have come to expect the unexpected when they engage with us – and that runs all the way through to how we operate in the area of PR for Paddy Power.”

Image result for rachael kane pp

Her former career has informed how she goes about her job, too. “Having worked as a journalist for over a decade, I’ve received my fair share of press releases and nodded off during countless press conferences. It’s obvious — and as boring as hell — but the most frustrating thing about many of the releases received is that they didn’t contain all of the necessary and obvious information required.

 

“Use your head when you’re sending stuff out, and make sure all of the elements you want to see on a page in a newspaper, in online content or hear during a broadcast is served up in your communications clearly, simply and ‘obviously’. Reporters and editors have enough to be doing without emailing you back asking for images you forgot to attach.”

 

Rachael cautions against rigidity and formality. “Sticking to the standard way of doing things, just because that’s the done thing, doesn’t make it correct,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit, without interfering with the job at hand.

 

“We hosted a press conference with one of our ambassadors over a full-on Christmas feast during the festive period. Yes, there was food flying and plenty of people talking with their mouths full, but everyone in attendance walked away with brilliant content, full bellies and possibly some indigestion. But not one of them nodded off… at least until after the food coma kicked in, by which time we were long gone.”

 

And it’s here that her former life as a journalist kicks in once more. “If we’re were going to ask journalists to trek to a location, the least we could do was make it worth their while and enjoyable.

 

“Basically, keep the needs of your audience to the forefront of your mind, whether it’s in terms of your venue choice for a media day and facilities to file from with ease or something as basic as food.”

 

It’s simple advice, but one that’s worked a treat when it comes to Paddy Power PR.

 

 

Paddy Power and Media HQ

 

Paddy Power is a long-term client of MediaHQ. Rachael Kane finds the service to be invaluable when it comes to doing her job, not least because it takes away a lot of the grunt work that comes with keeping media databases bang up to date.

 

“I would struggle on a daily basis without having access to this service,” she says. “Never before have we seen so much change in the media landscape. Critically, many news organisations have hemorrhaged staff in the past 12 months, meaning contact lists remain in a constant in a state of flux. Media HQ keeps on top of these changes with regular updates to their service, taking the headache out of tracking down the people you need to reach out to.”

 

Seven Paddy Power stunts… plus how the brand excels on social media

 

  1. Nicklas Bendtner’s ‘Lucky Pants’

Image result for bendtner lucky pants

Background

 

During the 2012 European Football Championships in Poland and Ukraine, controversial Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner was fined €100,000 by UEFA after he revealed the Paddy Power logo on his boxer shorts while celebrating a goal. The stunt was in contravention of the strict rules on sponsorship imposed by European football’s governing body.

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?

 

A classic example of guerrilla marketing, Paddy Power knew the ploy would generate blanket news coverage. But it almost didn’t come off, according to Rachael Kane. “What people may not be aware of is that Bendtner actually forgot to flash his pants after his first goal,” she says. “That led to much weeping from the mischief planners at Paddy Power.

 

“However, proving that our lucky pants really do contain something special in their stitch work, not only did he manage to score again, he remembered to flash his resplendent undergarments to the world in the process, making Paddy Power’s Lucky Pants globally famous.”

 

Rachael says the special green boxers have gone one to become a symbol of the “cheekiness and irreverence” that is now seen as inherent to the Paddy Power brand DNA.

 

“An added bonus from a PR perspective — ignoring the fact that it cost us a six-figure sum in the form of said fine, of course — is that almost every time a lesser fine is imposed on a team for serious misdemeanours, like racism, say, the fine we were hit with is held up as a demonstration of sheer ridiculousness.”

 

Why it worked

 

As Rachel reveals, it almost didn’t work when the footballer suffered momentary amnesia after scoring that first goal. “It was a massive gamble in the first place that he would score at all in order to pull off this stunt, so in that moment our secret squad of mischief makers on the sidelines waved goodbye to what they believed was his one and only chance he would have to give the world a peep at his smalls,” she says.

 

“The only one celebrating harder than Bendtner that evening was our mischief makers after they swerved the sack… until the letter came in about the fine and the cold sweats returned!”

 

How did PP manage things from a PR point of view?

 

The media enquires started flooding in while the match was still on. And there was a deluge of interest after the final whistle. A Denmark-Portugal match would not generate anything like the press coverage of an England game, but this one did — and delivered hundreds of thousands of pounds in publicity for Paddy Power.

 

“Having stared ruination straight in the eye when the stunt nearly didn’t come off, Paddy was cool as a cucumber in the aftermath as the media enquiries began to flood in,” Rachael says.

 

“He’s horizontal at the best of times, so in his naturally nonchalant manner, he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and said as much. When news came in about Bendtner being fined for showing off his lucky briefs, we didn’t hesitate in footing the bill.”

 

 

  1. Floyd Mayweather — ‘Always Bet On black’

Image result for floyd mayweather paddy power

Background

 

The US native — considered by some to be one of the best boxers of all time — took on Irish UFC champion Conor McGregor in a boxing match that purported to be a fight of the ages between rival sports and their motormouth exponents. Paddy Power saw a gilt-edged opportunity to muscle in.

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?

 

“Our mission,” says Rachael, “was to infiltrate one of the biggest bouts this side of Ali. So, we floated in like a butterfly to approach ‘Money’ Mayweather to find out if he was interested in stinging his Irish opponent like a bee during their pre-fight weigh in. On the scale of bonkers, this one was right up there. But we took a punt on him having a sense of humour, and it turned out he did.

 

“It wasn’t about the money for Mayweather,” she quips. After all, the boxer was on a rumoured $100m for the fight. “He bought into our idea because it meant getting one up on the Irishman by championing an Irish brand right in front of his nose on the eve of their bout.

 

“We can only surmise why he opted to sport the ‘Always Bet On Black’ tagline — which was his choice. But anyone familiar with McGregor’s smack talk might find some clues.”

 

Why it worked

 

Rachael Kane says the shock on McGregor’s face when he arrived for the weigh-in was proof that Paddy Power-in-Mayweather’s-corner would be a big news story.

 

“Images of Mayweather sporting our custom-made ‘Always Bet On Black’ boxers were transmitted around the world, appearing on newspapers and websites globally. It caused a fair share of outrage amongst McGregor’s Irish supporters, but if there’s one thing we’ve come to know we can rely on, it’s the Irish sense of humour. And aside from making the snake emoji almost as famous as the stunt itself during the process, Irish people saw the funny side…mostly.”

 

How did PP manage things from a PR point of view?

 

It was a case of a less-is-more approach. “Sometimes silence is golden. And on this occasion we let the pants do the talking, rather than talking pants ourselves for the sake of it.”

 

  1. ’C’mon England’ — the 2014 World Cup campaign

Image result for C'mon england paddy power

Background

 

The 2014 World Cup was held in Brazil and hopes were high that Roy Hodgson’s England could be among the serious contenders. In the run-up to the tournament, there was much widespread commentary about the host nation’s poor environmental record, especially when it came to the Amazon rain forest. And that got the mischief makers at Paddy Power thinking…

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?

 

“We had a bit of time on our hands before the World Cup kicked off in Brazil,” Rachael recalls. “Greenpeace told us that in the Amazon an area the size of 122 football pitches is chopped down every 90 minutes. So, we concocted our #Shavetherainforest stunt to help haul this issue into the public light, with our own little mischievous twist.” That twist involved sending a doctored photo showing the words ‘C’Mon England’ visible from the skies and hacked into the rain forest. It looked as though trees had been removed to make way for the stunt, but of, course, it was simply the power of a good photo-shop.

 

The stunt irritated some. “Many people genuinely thought Paddy Power had chopped down a load of trees,” she says. “The truth is we can’t trust Paddy to put his pants on in the morning or eat a Sunday roast without getting gravy on his best shirt, so God knows what he’d be like operating heavy machinery.”

 

But the provocative nature of the campaign was worth it, she feels. “We knew we’d drop off a fair few Christmas card lists, but we couldn’t resist a bit of fake Twitter mischief to highlight an important issue to football fans as our World Cup warm-up.”

 

Why it worked

 

The idea that a brand would chop down trees in the Amazon provoked outrage on social media. “It probably doesn’t say much for our reputation that people did believe we would hack down a rainforest in support of Roy’s Boys but that was part of the magic. “They wouldn’t, would they?

 

“Things went into overdrive when our social media team stoked the flames with some well-placed responses.” And the brand was delighted with celebrities rush to condemn the actions including one of the actors who played a Hobbit in Lord of the Rings.

 

How did PP manage things from a PR point of view?

 

“Having a plan is key,” Rachael says. “You need to be ready if — or as is most usually the case in our world —when the excrement hits the mechanically propelled ventilator.

 

“At the heart of this stunt was an important message, and having Greenpeace onboard gave it credence when the truth was revealed. But there are some things you can’t plan for, such as hobbits and the like, so you’ve got to trust your gut and roll with the punches.

 

“Ultimately, we wanted to fill the white space in the days before kick-off and use it as an opportunity to highlight the destruction of the rainforest in the World Cup’s host nation.”

 

 

  1. Huddersfield Town’s shirt deal

Image result for paddy power huddersfield town

Background

 

Paddy Power was unveiled as the new shirt sponsor of Championship side Huddersfield Town. The initial launch photos revealed a shirt replete with a huge Paddy Power logo emblazoned slash-style. It caused outrage. But anger turned to delight when the brand revealed the real shirt wouldn’t feature its logo at all.

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?  

 

“The ‘Save Our Shirt’ campaign was revealed following a week-long hoax marking our first foray into football sponsorship,” Rachael says. “In short, we rolled the new jerseys out with a sash brandishing our logo so large it would make the Rose Of Tralee blush.

 

“It was all part of a deliberately orchestrated strategy months in the planning between club and sponsor, alongside creative agency VCCP. Huddersfield Town eventually confirmed that despite signing Paddy Power as its title sponsor, the club’s real kit will would not feature any branded logo.”

 

But Paddy Power was keen to maximise coverage of the stunt and had a plan in store for the first match of the season. “We staged a ‘shirt amnesty’ outside Huddersfield Town’s first home game against Derby County for fans to hand back older branded shirts and receive an unbranded version.

 

“We used this campaign to call bullshit on football sponsorship generally. Many bookmakers sponsor a football team and they’ll just lazily put their brand on there. We, like many fans of the beautiful game were sick of seeing jerseys bastardised by brands. We believe the jersey is sacred and wanted to unsponsor it, and hand put a clean logo-less shirt back in the hands of fans.”

 

Rachael says the Save Our Shirt campaign will continue. “It’s really important to us because we think it’s a genuine issue and we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t a true insight. We’re about more than just a quick Twitter storm. The launch strategy was not for the faint-hearted. But luckily, the club embraced the idea straight away and were ready for the backlash and prepared to weather the storm for the greater good.”

 

Why it worked

 

“It worked because, at its heart, the campaign was about delivering fans a shirt to be proud of. The FA stuff [the angry reaction from the Football Association, with resulted in a £50,000 fine], ultimately bolstered the debate. At least that’s what we promised the bosses it would do when the fine arrived.”

 

How did PP manage things from a PR point of view?

 

“We played the long game with this one. And key to our planning was maintaining longevity in terms of this campaign, adding partnerships with other teams to the conversation. Fans and teams embraced the #SaveOurShirt campaign because it’s an issue that bothers people.”

 

Rachael believes the stunt resonated outside the UK too. “For example, when [cellular firm] Three recently pulled out of their sponsorship of the Republic of Ireland football squad — a brand we all associate with having its logo blasted across the chests of our national team — many fans thought of #SaveOurShirt and Paddy Power was to the forefront of their minds when they pondered on a replacement to save the day. That’s a unique and unlikely position for any bookmaker given the current climate. Let’s face it, bookies aren’t exactly flavour of the week, month or year right now.”

 

 

  1. From Russia, With Equal Love

Image result for from russia with equal love

Background

 

Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup and prior to the tournament there was concerned about the country’s notorious attitude towards homosexuality. In the months leading up to the opening game, there were concerns for gay supporters travelling to the World Cup. Paddy Power saw an opportunity to take a stand.

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?

 

“As a brand,” Rachael says, “we’ve got form for campaigns that involve conversations around LGBT+ issues, and this one was no different. Given the World Cup was being hosted by a nation famed for his tendencies towards homophobia, we used that fact to stick it to the home side.

 

“For every goal the host nation score, Paddy Power donated £10,000 to fund a number of causes in association with Attitude magazine’s foundation, dedicated to making football more LGBT+ inclusive – giving LGBT+ fans a reason to cheer on the home side.”

 

To galvanise support for the campaign, Paddy Power invited big names including as ex-Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, rugby icon Gareth Thomas and England football international Lianne Sanderson to lend their support. “They  revealed themselves to be ‘Rainbow Russians; and urged the LGBT+ population to stand in solidarity with Putin’s boys.”

 

Why it worked

 

“For starters we guaranteed a minimum donation of £50,000, no matter what, and just in case Russia didn’t score!” The host nation had no problems in front of goal, however, and bagged five in their opening game against Saudi Arabia and a further three against Egypt.

 

“It wasn’t long before the bean counters in Power Tower were panicking about the potential payout thanks to this particular mad plan hatched by the mischief team. But it worked because every time the host nation played, fans and LGBT+ fans in particular, were suddenly paying attention to Russia’s performance in a way they never would have before.”

 

How did Paddy Power manage things from a PR point of view?

“This was a joy to work on because who wouldn’t like sharing good news that we were coughing up massive sums of cash to a great cause thanks to Russia’s inadvertent support?

 

“The mechanic was simple and easily understood and communicated.

Although I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much if I was charged with keeping count of all those 10ks being racked up and keeping the boss updated as we went on how much we were haemorrhaging financially in the process!”

 

 

  1. Rhodri Giggs’ and loyalty

Image result for rhodri giggs paddy power

Background

 

Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs needs little introduction and thanks to his affair with his brother’s wife, neither does younger sibling Rhodri. The revelation was a tabloid sensation and when it came to launching a new loyalty campaign, Paddy Power hatched a plan.

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?

 

“We were tasked with the objective to come up with a campaign to bolster Paddy’s Rewards Club which, of course, rewards loyalty and we wanted to do it in a way that sports fans could identify with,” Rachael says.

 

“After much marketing and target audience research we came up with the tagline, Loyalty Is Dead. Live For Rewards. When we began to think about what that term meant, it naturally led us to conversations about people of public profile who were victims of disloyalty. It wasn’t long before Rhodri’s name came up!”

 

Why it worked

 

The campaign generated enormous publicity from the off. “It worked because, thankfully, Rhodri has a good sense of humour,” she says. “That, and our ability to unleash a squad of sharp-witted script writers on this project. Once we cracked the perfect tone, the rest looked after itself.

 

“The challenge,” Rachael adds, “lay in getting across clearly that Rhodri was poking fun at himself, his brother Ryan and their now infamous fall-out.”

 

How did Paddy Power manage things from a PR point of view?

“It seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but in order to satisfy a journalist or media outlets needs, you’ve got to think like one. If someone comes back to you with a further request after you’ve sent out a release, it means you’ve failed on your first pass.

 

“We made sure to furnish as many key people as possible with all of the content they might require at a glance.”

 

 

  1. Current campaign featuring Jose Mourinho

Image result for mourinho paddy power

Background 

 

Even those with the most cursory knowledge of football will be aware that Jose Mourinho is the self-styled ‘Special One’. It was the name he gave himself when he arrived at Chelsea in 2004 and it’s a tag that’s still applied to a larger-than-life figure currently managing another London club, Tottenham. Having him front a TV ad campaign is appealing to football lovers — and those who haven’t been to a game in years.

 

What was the thinking behind this stunt?

 

The TV advert enjoyed considerable acclaim when it launched at the start of the football season. “‘Power Tower’ is a cauldron of mad ideas,” Rachael says. “Sometimes when mischief planners present a particularly bonkers one, I’m convinced bosses give the green light only because they feel safe in the knowledge that they’ll never actually pull it off…until they do.

 

“Which is kind of how you’d imagine this one went down when someone suggested we get the ‘Special One’ on board to promote our Daily Jackpots product for Paddy Power Games; you no longer have to be special to win, because it’s won daily.”

 

Why it worked

 

“It worked because fans were almost as shocked as the management in Power Tower that we managed to convince Mourinho to get involved. And again, it came down to him being willing to take the piss out of himself and his nickname in order for this to work.

 

“Again, clever script writing was key, as was the countless number of secret visual gags dotted throughout the piece.”

 

How did Paddy Power manage things from a PR point of view?

 

“Content is king,” she says. “We shared all of the juicy information via the usual routes, and shared via our own channels all of the behind the scenes information from the film set — everything from the lines Mourinho wrote himself in the script to the massive prop he took home and what he ordered for lunch. Admit it, you’re dying to know what they were…”

 

 

  1. Standing out on social media

 

Background

 

Paddy Power has taken social media very seriously from the outset, with Twitter a key driver. “We have a crack team containing some of the sharpest minds in the game managing our social media channels,” Rachael says. “Once we keep them fed and watered, they make the magic happen.

 

The Paddy Power approach

 

According to Rachael, when it comes to social media, the planning can start months in advance. “We start with top line ideas, what we want to achieve, what our KPIs are. We are doing more and more snapchat and video stuff now.”

 

That approach has been solidified in recent years, especially around the Cheltenham festival. A popular social media campaign centred on champion jockey Ruby Walsh.

 

The popular Irish jockey, Rachael points out, often talks about Twitter trolls and how jockeys get lots of abuse on Twitter so “we thought it would be funny for him to confront someone who wrote a mean tweet.” It proved to be really popular, achieving more than four million views across all platforms.”

 

Irreverent live commentaries

 

A long-standing feature of Paddy Power’s social media presence is the way the brand piggy-backs on big sporting events by offering irreverent and witty analysis of horse-racing, football and rugby matches.

 

“They walk, talk and act like sports fans because they are sports fans,” Rachael says, “so their commentary is a reflection of what other punters are thinking – they’re just quicker at typing it out in 140 characters or less.”

 

Lessons learned 

 

There is no quick fix for social media, Rachael says. She says it’s not about dipping in and out here and there and sending the odd, barely thought-out tweet. “A lot of it is about hard work, constantly being on and driving engagement, engaging with people, and driving contact with people.”

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