Bloodied but not beaten, Camelot has emerged victorious from its second battle with Sir Richard Branson's People's Lottery. The final decision on who should run the lottery for its second seven-year term took six months longer than expected, but now Camelot is facing up to a new set of communications challenges as a mature lottery provider.
Camelot endured criticism from many quarters even before taking on the running of the lottery in 1994. The images of fat cat bosses and huge profits at the expense of good causes have largely begun to fade - except from Branson's corner of the ring.
The company has worked hard to communicate trimmed boardroom payouts and the huge amount of money going to good causes - from its own corporate initiatives as well as via the lottery distribution bodies.
Recently, Camelot has also impressed many with the way it refused to back down over what it perceived to be a gross injustice on the part of the Lottery Commission, which unlawfully decided it would continue the bidding process only with The People's Lottery last summer.
'The Branson issue and the decision to take action was handled brilliantly. It was a major PR coup and I wasn't surprised,' says Lisa Bond, who was head of PR at Camelot from 1995 to 1999 and is now Universal Music International vice-president of communications.
It's been a tough year of campaigning and public affairs work, with Camelot itself taking up more of the communications team's - and the media's - attention than the promotion of the lottery. The organisation is now overhauling its PR function to reflect its new priorities (PRWeek, 12 January).
There has already been a slimming down of the public affairs function.
There is now one external affairs director, Sue Slipman, who transfers from her role as director of social responsibility to replace government affairs head Richard Brown and director of public affairs Louise White.
'We've got eight years now and we need to mature as a company,' says Slipman. 'At the beginning we were hit with the issues about how a private sector company running something for the public good should behave, and we came away reeling. We have examined our entrails and we'll be a lot more confident going forward.'
Slipman played a core part in the bidding process for the second licence, because Camelot had to make sure that 'social responsibility was running through the bid like a stick of rock.' Camelot's vision, spelled out by CEO Diane Thompson, was that it not only wanted to be a good lottery provider, it also wanted to be one of the most respected businesses in the country.
In response to its social audit last year, Camelot has made changes in 90 areas where there was concern from stakeholders, but there is still a lot of work to do. Under-age playing is a serious concern, and Camelot has tried to address this through a 'three strikes and you're out' policy for retailers caught selling tickets to children.
A lot of work in response to the social audit was put on hold while Camelot concentrated on winning the second licence, but under-age playing will now be the subject of a programme of parent education, since the company discovered that many under-15s were being bought tickets by adults.
Camelot obviously needs to continue to nurture and protect its reputation. But it exists to run the National Lottery, and it's time to refocus on making the lottery exciting again.
Bond says: 'On the consumer side it is going to have to push new games and winners - that will need to take more prominence than corporate PR.'
Slipman promises that a number of new 'fun and dynamic' games are in the pipeline, although this itself is no guarantee that the lottery's popularity will return to anywhere near the playing levels of its early years. The Thunderball game and the Millennium Draw 2001 did not capture the public's imagination and wallets as anticipated last year, after all.
Bond says this is understandable: 'The shine has gone off the lottery, like anything, and media interest has waned considerably. People accept it as part of the fabric of society now - it's unlikely that they'll attract new players, so it's about maintaining the player base.'
One of the new ways Camelot could keep current playing levels up is by embracing the internet, and this commitment was laid out in its bid.
Before it can charge ahead with an online lottery, however, it has to ensure it can do so responsibly, again addressing fears about under-age play, for instance.
'We're in the process of developing a tool that enables us to minimise the potential risk to vulnerable groups, and then the marketing and sales will start,' says Slipman.
A shift in emphasis back to consumer PR means there will be a shake-up of Camelot's agency roster: 'We will take our time and examine what we need from our suppliers. We have good relationships with them but, given the challenge in front of us, of course we will examine the partners we work with,' says Slipman.
Whichever agencies it moves forward with, Camelot's communications team will need to strike a balance between continuing to try and improve its reputation, and re-igniting interest in a 21st century lottery. How much would you bet on it succeeding?
TIMELINE OF LOTTERY WARS
Deadline for bids to run the second lottery licence
The Lottery Commission says Branson's People's Lottery is preferred bidder. Camelot seeks a judicial review
Camelot wins its challenge
Both companies re-submit bids
19 December 2000
Camelot is awarded the licence
10 January 2001
Branson decides not to proceed with a legal challenge.