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Irish bookmaker Paddy Power thrives on its reputation as a controversial and, dare I say it, disruptive brand.

The company's marketing strategy is built around headline-grabbing stunts that always sail close to the wind and occasionally verge on being a bit distasteful.

To find out more about how these stunts are put together, I spoke to Paddy Power's mischief champion Harry Dromey.

Dromey is one of the speakers at Econsultancy's Festival of Marketing in November. The two day celebration of the modern marketing industry also features speakers from LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.

Please briefly explain your role at the company.

My title is Mischief Champion. I am responsible for Paddy Power’s stunts that get the company a huge amount of media coverage and create a load of social buzz. 

It’s a cost effective way to build brand awareness, increase affinity with the brand and differentiate us from the competition.

What is the Mischief Department? Why was it created?

Mischief has been an intrinsic part of the brand ever since we were founded 26 years ago. 

The founding fathers of Paddy Power realised it really chimed with our customers and differentiated us from our dusty, old competitors. 

The Mischief Department's formation in late 2011 was about the business formally recognising the key role mischief has played, and will continue to play, in our growth.

Our main role is to ensure that we continue to land big stunts. Great examples include Nicklas Bendtner scoring to reveal Paddy Power lucky pants at Euro 2012; planes flying over the Ryder Cup spelling out customers tweets in letters made out of smoke; hijacking the 2013 Papal Election with Dennis Rodman in a Popemobile; and getting Professor Hawking to produce a formula that gave World Cup 2014 predictions.

We also help other customer-facing departments across the business to have a consistent, mischievous tone. 

This is so customers see one brand whether they see Paddy Power on the telly, in press, on Twitter or Facebook, on the blog, in shop, etc. 

To be honest, there are so many talented deviants in the business that I probably do more learning rather than advising when I speak to these other departments.

Does the company have a core traditional marketing team? How do you work with them?

We have a great team who are responsible for the more traditional paid-for channels. 

They certainly aren’t traditional in their approach though and are constantly innovating in their own mischievous way. 

In all marketing activity, we have to make each euro or pound we spend work extra hard because we don’t have the most money so can’t spend our way to victory.

The core marketing team, editorial team, social team, PR team, mischief team, etc. work pretty seamlessly together because we see massive benefits of being joined up. 

Mischief simply wouldn’t work if we didn’t plan campaigns together as we need the other teams to get the news of the latest stunt out there.  

Explain the creative process. I assume you have a content calendar tied to sporting events?

No two stunts are ever the same. Most of the time an idea comes from one of our partner agencies. 

This year Lucky Generals and Taylor Herring have been on fire. We then work with them and our internal teams to produce an all singing, all dancing campaign to extract as much value from the idea as possible.

We like to see ourselves as an entertainment brand. If we can bring a bit of excitement to life by hijacking an event that few people are betting on, then we’ll do it. 

For example, there wasn’t a huge amount of revenue from Papal Election voting or the Brit Awards but we decided to do stunts at both because people were watching and we had something funny to say.

How do you measure the success of your mischievous campaigns? What metrics do you use?

Media coverage, whether that is broadcast, online or print, and social buzz which for us is predominantly on Twitter and Facebook. 

We don’t do econometric analysis of the stunts as it would be almost impossible to get an accurate ROI.

Which campaign has been most successful for you, and why?

One of the most successful and most interesting campaigns we did was pretending to cut “C’MON ENGLAND” into the Amazon rainforest a week before the World Cup kicked off. 

In a nutshell, we leaked pictures onto the internet, people across the world quite rightly went bonkers, before we revealed the pictures were fake and it was all to draw attention to deforestation in the Amazon. 

The media didn’t cover it to the same extent as some of our other big stunts but in terms of impact it was right up there with the best because it flew in social.

The weekend before the World Cup, the story was the most read on Reddit and all weekend Paddy Power was trending on Twitter in the UK - initially because we were being slammed for cutting down the Amazon and then praise after the revelation it was a hoax for a good cause.

It was my favourite because it was the first time we had executed a stunt entirely online. Previously we had always created something in the real world. 

It was the height of mischievousness and a nerve-wracking roller-coaster ride. More importantly though, the stunt (along with what we did with Professor Hawking and Paul Scholes) made us one of the most talked about brands in the UK and Ireland the fortnight before the biggest betting event in the company’s history.

There have been a few less successful campaigns (Oscar Pistorius betting). How do you judge how far to take your ideas?

I think the less successful campaigns are the one you can’t recall. One of the reasons customers love mischief is because it's close to crossing the line. 

Sometimes we will cross the line and, when this happens, we hold our hands up but there is no point in beating ourselves up. 

Being boring is the worst crime we could commit.

David Moth

Published 4 September, 2014 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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