PR Insider: Story behind €175 million lotto jackpot


The biggest news story was shared through our MediaHQ platform this week as €175 million was won in the Euromillions draw by a family syndicate in Naul, Co.Dublin. Here we speak to Miriam Donohoe of the National Lottery to get the real story behind the story.

On Wednesday afternoon, while the country’s media organisations’ were working hard to establish just who in north Co Dublin had won the massive Euromillions jackpot the night before, Miriam Donohoe was meeting with the winners—a family syndicate—in a hotel in Dublin city centre.

The PR and Corporate Communications Manager with Premier Lotteries Ireland, operator of the National Lottery, had a two-hour conversation with the family and midway through the talk, she zeroed in on a nugget of information one of them had volunteered.

The winning ticket had been kept in an Argos catalogue and placed under the mattress of the bed that one of the syndicate members slept in. “It was all those years of working as a journalist,” the ex-Irish Times and Sunday Tribune news editor says. “I know that was a great bit of detail and the media would be all over it once it was released.”

And, sure enough, they were. The ‘winning ticket in an Argos catalogue’ story was featured everywhere, including a Guardian story on what is the largest lottery payout in Irish history.

Once the story broke on Tuesday night that a jackpot of over €175m had been won in Ireland, Miriam knew straight away that she had one of the week’s biggest stories on her hands.

“We have an internal WhatsApp group and I would get the results of all of our Daily Millions draws, our Euromillions jackpot draws and our Lotto jackpot draws so we’d know within minutes whether we had a winner or not,” she says.

On Tuesday evening, she was at a meeting of Hospice Africa Ireland—a charity she is involved with—when her phone pinged. “I saw the message flash up: ‘Euromillions draw. One winner – in Ireland.’ I immediately jumped up, I told my Hospice Africa colleagues ‘I’m out of here – we’ve had a big Euromillions winner!’ and I got straight home.

“What typically happens then is that within minutes of the draw being verified, an email goes out to all of the media saying ‘One winner in Ireland’, or whatever, and then you wait for the calls. I knew my phone was going to go ballistic—and it did. Immediately. It literally didn’t stop ringing for three hours. Morning Ireland were on. They wanted Dermot Griffin [National Lotteries boss] on the following morning. I did Newstalk and Today FM interviews. There were calls coming in from everywhere.”

The atmosphere was electric when she went into the National Lotteries office in the heart of Dublin the following morning, Wednesday. “Typically, when you have a big, big win like this we don’t announce the name of the shop [where the winning ticket was sold] for a couple of days because we need to prepare the shop, to inform them.

“And we need to prepare the winners, if they’ve made contact, to give them time and space to let this news sink in and get sound legal and financial advice. So we were presuming that we would follow that plan. But by about 8.30am word was leaking into us that the news was out, that the ticket was sold in north Dublin and that some of the media had an idea of some of the syndicates.”

Having worked on fast-developing stories in her long career as a journalist, Miriam was used to seeing how it worked from that side of the fence. Now, she was seeing what it was like from a public relations point of view. “The story was changing literally every five or 10 minutes and not only had we to keep on top of that but we had to try to get ahead of the story and to take ownership of it.”

By about 10am on the Wednesday, media organisations had found out the name of the shop—Daybreak in Naul, Co Dublin–where the ticket had been bought. But, unbeknownst to the large number of journalists working on the story, the syndicate were making contact with the National Lottery at that very time to acknowledge they had the golden ticket.

“In between fielding calls every minute, myself and the claims manager met with the syndicate in the city centre and we sat down with them and went through the claims procedure and the importance of them getting good sound and independent legal and financial advice. At that stage they knew that their names were out there in the community, they knew it was all over north Co Dublin and they were a little bit concerned with that, so I went through all the options: ‘You don’t have to go public and we will protect your identity as much as we can’ but I said to them that as their names were already known, it would be good to do something to acknowledge that this was a large family syndicate to give the media something to go with so maybe they wouldn’t hound them too much.

“So I issued a statement confirming it was a large family syndicate, quoting about their happiness for the win and adding that they were keen to get their heads together and to get advice as to what to do with the money.” And it was in that release that Miriam included the detail about the Argos catalogue.

In order to maximise publicity she arranged a photo and video shoot at Daybreak Naul and kept in contact with the syndicate about how they were faring in relation to the media. “We had a discussion about when they would come in and claim the cheque and whether they would go public or not. Those discussions are on-going.”


She says the 48-hour period after the confirmation that the winning ticket was sold in this country was the busiest she has had in her public relations career. There was a nearly insatiable desire from the media to cover all aspects of lottery stories, including historical wins and so forth. “We always have a huge of amount of material on previous wins on our hard drive so if we want to dip in to get stats on, say, the luckiest county in Ireland, we can do that.

“There’s nothing bigger than a big win to boost our sales. People are looking on at this ordinary family from north Co Dublin and they’re saying, ‘If it’s them, why couldn’t it be me?’”

But there was a complicating nature to Miriam Donoghue’s work week. This weekend, the Lotto jackpot will be €10m which will be the largest sum to be won in Ireland for two years. She had to ensure that news wasn’t buried under the mass of Euromillions coverage.

“We had a photo call at 8am on Thursday to promote Saturday’s Lotto jackpot. I was out at St Anne’s Golf Club near Dollymount with one of our Lotto presenters with 10 giant Lotto balls overseeing a photo and video shoot for Saturday’s draw – and that got plenty of coverage too.

“What I was doing on Thursday was trying to use the big Euromillions win as a great hook to get coverage for the Lotto jackpot on Saturday. I’ve been in touch with news desks saying ‘Look, we are going big on the Lotto jackpot reaching this figure with a press release, video and photo call on Friday and it will give them a really good peg to revisit the wider story of Lotto fever in Ireland this week.”

And Lotto fever is hardly over-stating the response to the story this week. Miriam says the public can’t get enough of it and for good reason. “This has been a really happy, feel-good story,” she says. “People are sick of Brexit. They’re sick of the economy and I think all newspaper editors understand that people love a good-news story and this story couldn’t have gone any better. It was shared by a family of siblings. They’re ordinary folk from north Co Dublin. They have children and grandchildren they want to share the money with. It’s a beautiful story.

“It’s been an absolute rollercoaster for me, but you get a great buzz and you seize the moment and you run with the excitement.” She says there has been great excitement among staff at the National Lottery and she said they plan to have a party of their own to celebrate later today.”

Miriam is keen to point out the role that MediaHQ has played. “Being with them has made this process so easy,” she says. “Using the MediaHQ software we were able to easily search the right journalists and contacts to send out our releases.  We were firing out lots of updates over the past few days and we were targeting different counties so being part of the MediaHQ database has helped us hugely.”

John Meagher is a journalist with the Irish Independent.

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