The National Lottery recorded its strongest performance in four years with £1.16bn of sales in the last three months of 2003. But it still has a long way to go to return to its peak of the mid-1990s.
Despite running the 'most successful, efficient and generous lottery in the world', according to Camelot director of corporate affairs Mark Gallagher, the operator has come in for more than its fair share of criticism.
As it nears its tenth anniversary as operator, Camelot has appointed regional PR agency Paratus Communications to a £250,000 account. It has launched EuroMillions, reorganised its press office and co-funded the National Lottery Promotions Unit (NLPU), created last September to promote its contribution to charities and good causes.
Camelot has been hampered by regulations in the past with publicity for the causes the responsibility of the charities and departments that benefit. This, says Gallagher, often leads to a lack of recognition of the Lottery's role.
Gallagher claims the Lottery's success has contributed to the 'biggest programme of civic regeneration since the 19th century'. However, he admits analysis of media coverage during the three years preceding his appointment in February 2003 showed that only 30 per cent was positive, while negative stories ran at 50 per cent. 'That is an abysmal track record for running a feel-good business and running it well,' he says.
A change of strategy
In response, Gallagher moved the in-house press office from Watford to London to get the 'eyeball-to-eyeball relationships with journalists' he says was lacking and split the 12-strong staff into issues management, general publicity and winners' publicity teams.
Gallagher says he wants to reinject the comms team with the 'spirit of campaigning'. He attributes the previous negative coverage partly to a lack of PRO activity since Camelot's licence victory over Richard Branson's People's Lottery in 2000.
Media coverage is currently 60 to 80 per cent positive, according to Gallagher. The Lottery occupies the same sort of public relations territory as the BBC. 'Just as anyone paying the TV licence fee feels ownership of the BBC, people really do care what happens to their lottery pound,' he adds.
Gallagher says NLPU's media relations will focus on the Lottery's tenth anniversary in November and continue a more proactive approach. 'If we get the consumer-facing PR right then it does have that sales impact,' he adds.
However, the problem for Camelot runs deeper than generating positive media coverage. Nexus Communications Group MD Alan Twigg, who dealt with Camelot at its agency of nine years, Harrison Cowley, says it needs to establish the excitement that surrounded the brand at its inception.
'The negatives don't change and at least they get people talking about the game,' he says, adding that the same opposition from church and anti-gambling groups existed when the Lottery was at its most popular. 'The problem is it's very hard to get winners to go public these days. At its peak, up to 30 per cent would agree to publicity, but around 1999 it dropped to single figures.'
Twigg suggests Camelot should use spin-offs and promotions that partner with everyday brands that mean something to people: 'They need to be something that happens every week such as football or rugby, but they have never had any decent promotions.'
PR agencies nationwide would no doubt line up to offer Camelot ideas, and even entrants for this year's PRWeek James Maxwell Award are offering advice. One, Victoria Asare-Archer, says: 'The Lottery should sponsor more "exciting events" like fireworks shows, circuses, school fetes - events associated with positive family values.'
Point-of-purchase brands could prove particularly effective, Twigg says, pointing to Comic Relief's success with chocolate brands: 'Britain rules the world in confectionery, and they are within a hand's width of Lotto in stores.'
He adds: 'It can't be forgotten that the only reason to play the Lottery is to win big and all the good cause stuff is a consolation. It doesn't get people off their butts to buy a ticket.'
The introduction of new games has stabilised sales but could have the effect of dissipating interest. One big jackpot in the Lottery's early days saw 90 per cent of the adult population buy a ticket that week.
'There are not enough landmarks; there used to be more rollovers and big jackpots. There is a simple answer - if you have a £40m jackpot, every bugger will come back,' Twigg concludes.
WORDS OF ADVICE: EXPERT VIEWS OF CONSUMER PROS
Mark Borkowski, head, Borkowski PR
'Promoting winners is tired. The media are more interested in the losers and how winning has destroyed them. Camelot's got to promote the act of turning to the machine with your numbers - the game-playing, getting involved and the fun in playing.
'The scale of the job can never be underestimated because you've got national communications as well as regional and local. It's got to be hand-in-glove with the advertising agency, developing creative ideas to sit alongside advertising. It needs that soul connection of publicity.
'Sir Richard Branson was fresher, more modern and more energetic.'
JON MEAKIN, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE CONSUMER DIVISION, THE COMMUNICATION GROUP
'Camelot needs to go back to its roots. Everyone has the dream and back when the Lottery started everyone thought they could win. Camelot has got to inject this excitement again.
'There has been a focus latterly on the good causes but that has got to be a sub-message. It's not the reason people buy the ticket - they want to win shed-loads of cash.
'Camelot has to think laterally because fewer winners are willing to come forward and if that's all you're relying on, you're struggling. One way might be to look at past winners. There are so many great, untold human stories out there.'
LEIGH-ANN WILSON, DIRECTOR, GOLIN HARRIS
'It's definitely time to refresh. Camelot's got to get back to basics again. It should work on the point of purchase with supermarket chains to explain what the offer is again. It's been a long time since we've had that.
'It could then create some excitement through product launches that are relevant to the media agenda, which is also actually the consumer agenda. Magazines are crying out for anything celebrity related and there are plenty of national charities with celebrities it could work with.
'They should launch a game for Breast Cancer Awareness Week in October and get people back into it that way.'