Canadian Interview: Rula Sharkawi

Rula Sharkawi, Ontario Lottery Corporation and Gaming Corporation's executive director of communications and PR, revealed to PRWeek how the organization is changing its communications moving forward.

The Ontario Lottery Corporation and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has been plagued by bad news stories over the past couple years, as it faced numerous allegations of fraud by lotto retailers. This past summer, it announced a complete forensic audit of all wins over the past 13 years. Rula Sharkawi, OLG's executive director of communications and public relations, revealed to PRWeek how the organization is changing its communications moving forward.

In the aftermath of the fraud allegations, how has OLG changed the way it communicates?
We are making a critical shift in how we communicate with all our stakeholders. Across our organization, OLG continues to see broad changes that are driven by a commitment to integrity, transparency, and accountability. It is this commitment that drives all communications to put the customer at the center of everything we do. OLG's newly-created Office of Player Protection will continue to focus on how we can better empower and protect our players and the integrity of our games.  

In what ways have you communicated this customer-focus?
Consumer education focuses on empowering customers about what to expect when they play and how they can best protect themselves. For example, we ran several earned and paid media campaigns with a range of advertisement and point-of-sale materials before and after we introduced a new policy that required that customers sign all of their lottery tickets. We know from research that a large majority of our players are signing their tickets and from our retailer compliance audits that retailers are refusing to validate them if they are not signed.

How have you reached out to retailers?
We reached out to more than 10,000 retail partners to educate them about the many policy and technology changes and new compliance measures by way of face-to-face meetings, monthly newsletters, and terminal bulletins. Follow-up visits are made every couple of weeks by OLG's sales force to retailers to help reinforce the compliance expectations and to answer or clarify any questions they have about the new measures and new procedures designed to improve player protection. Messages about our new policies are frequently downloaded to retailer terminals, which are displayed on the screens each morning and must be read before a retailer can sign in.  

In what other ways is digital media changing the ways OLG reaches out to stakeholders?
Digital media allows us to enforce key security features to our customers and to change the way we reach out to all stakeholders. We currently use digital technology to deliver key security features to our customers at point-of-sale purchase. This includes customer-facing screens on the lottery terminal that notify players instantly if they have won and freeze the terminal for any prize over $5,000 so that our Customer Excellence Center can call the retail store and speak to the winner within minutes. OLG has approximately 1.3 million people visiting our Web site each month. This presents very exciting opportunities to expand our digital media  usage to support our commitment to open and transparent  communications with all our stakeholders. We are currently developing a broad strategy to implement many new social media tools that will allow us to better engage with the public in open two-way communications that allows a free flow of information to and from all our stakeholders, most importantly our customers.

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