CAMPAIGNS: Sports PR - Rankin shots give snooker image boost

Client: World Snooker

PR Team: Hill & Knowlton

Campaign: 'The boys are back'

Timescale: August - December 2001

Budget: Around £75,000

Ask casual sports viewers of their perception of snooker and they will

probably recall the 1985 World Championship final, when almost 20

million Britons stayed up after midnight to watch Dennis Taylor's

remarkable 18-17 victory over Steve Davis.

Since the heyday of the 1980s, though, snooker has been seen to have

falling recognition and media interest, despite relatively strong TV

viewing figures.

World Snooker - formally known as the World Professional Billiards and

Snooker Association - is the sport's controlling body. It oversees all

aspects of the game, from policy-making to financial issues, tournament

organisation and sponsorship deals. It is also the players'


A relationship between Hill & Knowlton's sports and marketing division

and World Snooker began 12 months ago, and this particular PR campaign -

to boost the profile of snooker and its players via non-sport media -

began in August.

This campaign is a part of World Snooker's aim to make the sport more

appealing to commercial partners. Snooker has historically been

over-reliant on the backing of tobacco firms, which is problematic as

government legislation prohibits tobacco sponsorship in snooker from

next year. The circuit's only non-tobacco sponsor is LG Electronics,

which has two years left of a three-year contract.

A four-strong H&K team worked on this brief, managed by senior associate

director Josie Stevens.


To raise snooker's profile and its stars to boost commercial


Strategy and Plan

Hill & Knowlton commissioned an external company to handle consumer

research into perceptions of snooker among a target audience of 15 to

35-year-old sports fans. The findings were that snooker was seen as

funereal, staid and lacked personalities.

Operating closely with World Snooker, its commercial partners and host

broadcaster the BBC, a communications strategy was developed to

reposition snooker to appeal to a younger audience.

The plan was to find out what could connect snooker with consumer

lifestyle aspirations; the answer was fast cars, millionaire lifestyles

and to play on 'bad boy' images, without alienating potential sponsors.

Hence, the title of the campaign: 'The boys are back'.

To kick-start a campaign in the consumer/lifestyle media, H&K decided to

hold a high-impact launch stunt.

H&K enlisted top celebrity photographer Rankin, best known as the

founding editor of Dazed & Confused magazine and snapping glitterati

such as Madonna and Kylie. With a stylist's help, photos were shot that

played to the positive findings from the consumer research, for example,

gangster imagery, eye-locking tension and bad-boy hustlers. Eight

players took part, including Ronnie O'Sullivan, Steve Davis, Peter Ebdon

and John Parrott.

Three media - broadsheet, tabloid and broadcast - were targeted with the

campaign over one weekend to ensure maximum coverage.

Rankin's photos were central to a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking

Barrels-style press pack. This was sent to journalists in a small green

bag, made of a material resembling snooker-table green felt, used to

entice non-snooker media to the game.

Measurement and Evaluation

Three exclusives had been negotiated with The Times's Saturday Magazine

(eight pages, including front cover), the News of the World, and Channel

4's Big Breakfast.

After these exclusives, the national media were alerted to the Rankin

images, which were free-to-use from the BBC digital picture service.

Coverage followed in, among others, Esquire Sport Monthly, Esquire, The

Sun, the Evening Standard's ES magazine, The Observer's Observer Sports

Monthly, Maxim and Loaded.

In The Times' Saturday Magazine, Wayne Hemmingway, founder of design

label Red or Dead, said of the Rankin pictures : 'This is one of the

best examples of reinvention using great styling, cool clothes and

brilliant photography I have seen.'


The range of media that featured the Rankin shots was undeniably

impressive. The profile of snooker's top players has undoubtedly risen

as a result of the campaign.

World Snooker marketing and PR manager Nicky Wiseman claims increased

interest from sports marketing companies and more media interest,

particularly within tabloid sports pages around last month's UK

championships, as a result of the campaign.

World Snooker was approached by a major FMCG potential commercial

sponsor post-launch weekend, but no more details are yet available.

July 2003 is the earliest time a new sponsor will be able to associate

itself with a major tournament, although the World Championships are

exempt from the tobacco ban until 2006.

World Snooker chief executive Jim McKenzie, to whom the H&K team had

reported, was dismissed on 12 December. Last week World Snooker sent a

letter to its members stating its 'trading position would be at extreme

risk if no substantial income or major investment partner were secured

in the near future. The company could become insolvent within months of

the 2002-2003 season beginning'.

Clive Everton, editor of the journal Snooker Scene, praised aspects of

'The boys are back' campaign but was sceptical as to whether it would

help to woo sponsors.

H&K continues to handle snooker players' media relations in the consumer

press and further PR campaigns aimed at attracting fresh fans - and

much-needed funding - to snooker are possible in the future.

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