PR deals royal flush at poker event

The World Series of Poker, operated by Caesars Entertainment, takes place from late May to mid-July, when play suspends until nine finalists compete in early November.

Client: The World Series of Poker (Las Vegas)

Agency: Sandy Hillman Communications (Towson, Maryland)

Campaign: The 41st Annual World Series of Poker

Duration: March – November 2010

Budget: about $50,000 (not including agency fee)

The World Series of Poker, operated by Caesars Entertainment, takes place from late May to mid-July, when play suspends until nine finalists compete in early November.

Caesars' communications director Seth Palansky explains that while the World Series is the leading poker market event the trick is to continue growing attendance amid increasing competition and players' limited disposable income.

“Ninety five percent of the entry fee goes to the prize pool,” Palansky says. “Our income is 5%. It doesn't make sense to spend a lot of marketing dollars to chase those fees. We must be very good PR wise to attract players and raise awareness.”

AOR Sandy Hillman Communications helped execute last year's campaign. 

Strategy

Agency SVP Dave Curley explains the team raised the number of lower entry fee ($1,000) tournaments last year to make the event more attractive in the wake of the recession.

“People want to attend events that guarantee large prizes,” Palansky adds. “The less they have to invest to potentially win more [the better]. The more we communicate the grandness of our prize money the more players we'll attract.”

Palansky says messaging always stresses that anyone can enter and win.

Media and blogger relations, social media outreach and WSOP.com drove awareness.

Tactics

More than 500 journalists and bloggers were credentialed. A media teleconference in early May was posted on WSOP.com, which also includes videos and player bios.

A 50-plus page electronic media kit, which included tournament history information and detailed statistics, provided numerous story angles and differentiated the World Series from other events that don't have long histories. Targeted were poker and mainstream general consumer blogs and outlets.

Daily “bracelet” ceremonies, in which media gather to interview winners (who receive gold bracelets), were held throughout the event.

A player advisory committee promoted the event schedule via forums, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. The team also regularly engaged a following of about 125,000 on the event Facebook and Twitter pages.

Between mid-July and November the nine finalists were promoted in their hometown markets and beyond.

Results

Entries increased nearly 20% from 2009 to 72,966 with the prize pool reaching more than $187 million (up 7.5% from 2009). Palansky also reports a “high single digit” revenue increase.

Curley says year-over-year traffic to WSOP.com increased 12%, and tens of millions of impressions were garnered in outlets including USA Today, GQ, and AP.

Future

The team is preparing for this year's event and will soon begin credentialing media.

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