Teaming up with UK sports marketing agency Pitch London, Betfair launched its Victoria Pendleton ‘Switching Saddles’ campaign for Cheltenham 2016. A marketing and branding initiative that took over a year to execute, ‘Switching Saddles’ became the betting industry’s highest impact campaign garnering UK and international press coverage.
Henry Chappell CEO of Pitch and Stephen Mault Head of Media, PR and Sponsorship for Betfair detailed to SBC the full undertaking of ‘Switching Saddles’, an ambitious and risky multi-channel campaign that tested all stakeholders involved.
SBC: Can you detail for SBC readers ‘Switching Saddles’ campaign journey, from its initial concept stage, to its planning through to its final execution?
Henry Chappell, (Pitch): The brief from Betfair in itself was simple, how do we supercharge Cheltenham Festival?
We wanted to step-away from the noise of competitors and create our own story, our own campaign. Betfair didn’t need a ‘one and done’ stunt; we wanted a 12-month campaign to drive constant engagement with bettors.
However, unlike previous infamous stunts from the betting industry, it needed to be authentic. And what better way to shine a light on the adrenaline of horse-racing than to challenge a highly-respected athlete to become an amateur jockey. Step-forward, Victoria Pendleton, Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian.
With Pendleton on board, Pitch and Betfair embarked upon weeks of due diligence, overcoming logistical challenges and building a team of racing experts to help turn an idea into reality. We created the assets required to make it a major news story – from press releases with quotes from Victoria and her training team to photography and video content, and a dedicated web channel (www.switchingsaddles.com) that would host content throughout the challenge.
The story was launched ahead of Cheltenham 2015 with a back page exclusive, and double page features interview in the Daily Mirror. On that same morning, Victoria was a guest on Good Morning Britain – ensuring the initial announcement hit both ‘core’ and ‘recreational’ audiences. After the exclusive coverage, double page interview features with Victoria Pendleton ran in print and online with the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, both of which linked back to www.switchingsaddles.com. In the space of 3 days, over 100+ prominent media outlets featured the challenge.
Stephen Mault (Betfair): Cheltenham 2015 was just the beginning – our strategically timed campaign milestones were aligned with priority betting moments for Betfair. The campaign was primarily focused on brand awareness, but our approach is always underpinned by the necessity to drive commercial results.
Over the space of 12 months, the challenge was documented through video content, branded photography, interviews and media days and resulted in more than 850 items of branded coverage, 49% of which was in national media.
The culmination of the campaign came in the two weeks before Cheltenham 2016 – a key new customer acquisition period for Betfair – when we announced that Victoria would be competing at the Festival.
More than 40 media across national print, online and broadcast media, attended a press conference in central London, and the event was streamed live by the BBC.
In the final ten days prior to Cheltenham, the campaign generated 175 items of Betfair branded coverage – 76% in national media – at a key business time for Betfair. Highlights included a branded image on the front page of The Saturday Times ahead of Cheltenham as well as double page spreads in key titles including Evening Standard, Daily Mirror, Guardian and Telegraph.
In the week of Cheltenham itself, it was one of the biggest sporting stories of the week and Pendleton’s race, and volume of bets on the Betfair Sportsbook for Victoria Pendleton’s race, the 2016 Foxhunter’s Chase, increased by 49% YOY.
SBC: How did your team convince both Victoria and Betfair to commit to a year-long campaign that faced many obstacles and potential dangers for both the athlete and the represented brand?
HC: The chance to learn a new skill and the scale of the challenge captured Victoria’s imagination from the outset – her nature is to want to succeed at whatever she attempts.
As a brand, Betfair took responsibility for putting a team of experts in place – including Team GB Equestrian Performance Manager Yogi Breisner, amateur trainer’s Alan and Lawney Hill, Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls and racing consultant John Maxse – who alongside Betfair’s Barry Orr would help ensure every aspect of risk was minimised along the way.
SM: We all agreed that Victoria would strive towards the extremely ambitious target of riding in the Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham 2016 – and that it would need to be done in the most time effective manner – at no point would Victoria’s safety be compromised and she would always have the final say on progression of the campaign.
The first stage in this process was getting Victoria to a level where she was proficient and could be granted an amateur jockey licence. The planning was meticulous and achieved alongside Victoria and her team of experts as well as the British Racing School.
Once Victoria had received her amateur licence, Victoria and the team of experts put a plan in place, detailing a rigorous training schedule and race plans designed to build confidence and skill levels in a short period of time. To make this happen, Victoria trained 6 days a week and put to use key attributes that helped her become a champion cyclist. Her ability to train intensively, learn new skills quickly, naturally high fitness level, good balance and knowing what it’s like to travel at speed were essential. She is also a very brave individual.
Despite all this, there were of course still risks to both the individual and the brand, however these risks were understood by both. All good campaigns have an element of jeopardy, and it was this that helped make Switching Saddles such an interesting story for media and consumers.
SBC: How did this year-long campaign challenge your team operationally and creatively?
SM: We approached the campaign as a race. Start with a bang, maintain pace through the middle, then come home with a big finish, taking the UK on a year-long journey following Victoria’s transformation, culminating in the Foxhunter’s Chase at the Cheltenham Festival 2016.
Operationally it was very challenging for everyone involved. However the team of experts, combined with Pitch and Betfair’s sponsorship team worked together in clearly defined roles. A working group met every month and weekly calls ensured that the communications and sponsorship team could plan PR moments around Victoria’s training and race plans generating coverage for Betfair and the challenge without compromising the success of the challenge on the track.
SBC: From a technical prespective, this unique campaign, was told through multiple formats (print, digital, social, TV), how did your team undertake an effective and coherent multi-content strategy to gain maximum exposure?
HC: The communications team behind the campaign worked extremely closely with Victoria and the team of experts assembled by Betfair. This relationship was invaluable to providing the most-effective multi-content strategy with maximum exposure. It also placed Betfair at the heart of the storytelling which was important for maintaining ownership of the campaign.
The campaign was built on content, with video, photography and interview assets maximised to drive coverage. Over the course of the year, we released ten videos, four photo essays, held eight media days and issued over a twenty press releases, all of which featured extensively in the UK media across a variety of platforms.
Our press conference to announce Victoria’s participation at Cheltenham not only drove widespread media coverage, but such was the conversation on social around the challenge, that #GoodLuckVP trended for more than 4 hours and news from the press conference powered engagement on digital and social media
SM: Betfair’s owned channels were also a powerful tool for ensuring branded exposure in earned media. Regular blogs and video content updating media on Victoria’s progress were hosted on www.switchingsaddles.com and amplified across Betfair’s social media channels, ensuring media were driven back to a consistent branded space.
Such was the momentum behind the campaign pre-Cheltenham 2016 from both media and consumers, we wanted to include #GoodluckVP within our paid media strategy and TVCs. Pitch and Betfair worked closely together to ensure editorial interviews with Victoria were supplemented by adverts in the same media titles (often on the same page) and TV adverts aired across ITV, Channel 4 and Sky resulting in a truly integrated campaign than dominated the paid and earned spaces around Cheltenham 2016.
SBC: From your perspective, what competencies and benefits do businesses gain when they engage in this type of high-level/high-risk marketing campaign?
HC: The campaign has re-confirmed to me a topical marketing industry debate. Who owns the ideas, the creative? The traditional advertising model isn’t relevant for today’s consumer.
We’re finding more and more clients coming to us and asking for the creative idea.
As the marketing and PR world continue to debate the role of each channel, our creative approach isn’t dictated by box-ticking. Our overriding creative fundamental is to capture the imagination of the target audience.
We’ve been asked on many occasions, is it a sponsorship, PR, social media or marketing campaign? Our response, it’s not one of them, it’s all of them. The core creative of Switching Saddles is to provide consumers with a unique perspective of horse-racing and the campaign has been successfully activated through each channel.
SM: Switching Saddles has shown the value of a great creative idea. An idea which can add to a consumer’s sporting experience and can be delivered across paid, owned and earned.
Over the last 12 months, the campaign has also demonstrated the value in working across different parts of the business and with an agency. Working alongside Pitch was like having an extended team, they understand the brand and know how to activate aligned to our beliefs.
SBC: Finally, assessing ‘Switching Saddles’ conclusion what can industry operators and stakeholders learn from this unique campaign and its message?
HC: In a fragmented media world, a brand needs a clear message and differentiation. In the betting sector, there are millions spent on sponsorship and PR every year and there’s a great opportunity to engage consumers through distinctive campaigns.
With media becoming more expensive and sought-after, this has never been so important to gain cut-through with an audience.
SM: Betfair has always had a clear approach. We want to bring excitement and adrenaline to fans. Whether that be through a product experience or consumer engagement, our commitment is strong. We stand for something that our customers care about.
‘Switching Saddles’ was another way to bring our innovative approach to life. Innovation doesn’t always relate to technology, it was about the simple insight that Betfair is providing a unique perspective on horse-racing through an innovative campaign approach.
Henry Chappell CEO of Pitch Marketing Group
Stephen Mault Head of Media, PR and Sponsorship – Betfair
Sports betting marketing, PR and branding will be discussed and analysed at the upcoming ‘Betting on Sports’ conference (Grange Hotel, Tower Bridge London 15-16 September)