The relationship between an online poker site and its chosen team of brand representatives is always complicated. Back in the online game’s earliest days, a site’s brand reps, for better or worse, might have amounted to little more than a handful of well-known pros who just happened to be friends with a site’s owners or top management.
The brand-repping game has come a long, long way in the past two decades, and it’s more complex than ever before. A site’s representatives have to be able to do so much more than being well known and playing poker well. That “big reach” certainly helps, of course; one of the things a brand rep ought to be able to do is attract new players to a site.
However, a player’s personality is also important. Is he (or she) a natural fit for the brand he’ll be representing? Will he be proactive in promoting and advancing the site’s interests? On the flip side, will the player maintain an upstanding personal and professional profile?
It doesn’t stop there. The global online-poker market has grown ever more complex over the past two decades. In online poker’s formative years, a “one face fits all” approach might have worked, but these days, the global market is so fractured and firewalled that virtually no player or celebrity offers universal appeal. Given that any given site can employ only a finite number of representatives, it makes choosing the right mix a very challenging and ever-adapting endeavor. These days, PokerStars’ “Teams” of brand representatives come in several different varieties, from a live or online focus to social-media stars, from global appeal to single-country reps, and the teams include both poker players and well-known figures from other walks of life.
Many players and fans of the game don’t realize how complicated this marketing dance has become. And when they do hear of it, it’s usually from an individual player’s perspective, which often lacks the larger, global approach that’s often involved. It’s an incomplete picture.
Poker.org recently checked in with PokerStars’ Scott Goodall, the site’s Commercial Director for Poker, Communities & Engagement. Goodall deals with the complexities of brand representation on a daily, if not hourly, basis, and he’s one of the industry’s foremost experts on what it takes to solve the brand-representation puzzle in the modern online-poker era. PokerStars’ famed Team PokerStars launched virtually with the site when Stars went live in 2003, and over the years the team has featured many of the game’s biggest names.
Team PokerStars has also evolved over the years. None of the site’s original brand representatives or ambassadors remain, which is itself a truism reflecting the ever-changing state of the industry. Brand representation has always been an adaptive sort of marketing, always searching for the next opportunity. Goodall has seen a lot of that change over his nearly seven years with PokerStars, and he agreed to share some of his thoughts — and a bit of PokerStars’ philosophy — on the how and why of PokerStars’ approach to having players and celebrities represent its company. Here’s what Goodall shared:
Poker.org: What does PokerStars view as its primary goal in building and maintaining a lineup of brand ambassadors, team pros, or other representatives?
Goodall: As a global brand with various local and global strategies it would be difficult to have one goal that fits all. I would, however, call out that authenticity is key when considering anyone who could fit in these ambassador roles. At PokerStars we don’t simply look at someone with big reach. We focus on authenticity as a key driver, looking at someone who engages and loves what we and they do, mixed with being able to be themselves and communicate with their audiences naturally.
Poker.org: Does PokerStars believe the need for brand representatives is greater or less today than it was 10 or 15 years ago?
Goodall: What happens today isn’t too different to 10 or 15 years ago in terms of representation requirements, it’s just in a different medium. I believe representation has always been a key asset for brands, and we all have to evolve within the different spaces and communities that are built by individuals from the many different platforms that are now around.
Poker.org: How does PokerStars balance its marketing needs from one market to the next in an increasingly complex global market?
Goodall: We always try to look at the specific market needs and we plan accordingly. In some ways we work like any local business, we look at each market and our communities there, and then determine what is required and do our best to deliver for our customers in a way that speaks to them, on a regional and global scale.
Poker.org: PokerStars has a long history with brand representatives and appears to have gone through several different historical phases. At first it was purely Team PokerStars Pro, and then other market exploration and expansion via brand reps came in waves, from athletes and celebrities to streamers and podcasters. Today Stars takes a multifaceted approach; can you describe the thought process behind that evolution?
Goodall: It has never been a specific conscious decision to shift paths or routes, PokerStars is simply adapting with the evolution of the industry, how players engage with us and the variety of situations that have changed over the years, as well as competition and growth into new markets. The industry has also matured over the years with new technologies and the growth of alternative media other than TV, meaning we look at adapting to where the communities are forming and fill that with authentic representatives.
Poker.org: With that history in place, does PokerStars feel increased marketing pressure to search for prominent personalities from outside poker’s core, who nonetheless offer intriguing and promotional opportunities?
Goodall: I think the simple answer here is, no. As mentioned previously, this is about looking at what is right for the specific markets and audiences we want to speak to or connect with. So, in some cases that may be outside of poker’s core and in some cases from within it. We have always tried to lead the way in this area, we aim to do what is right and aligned to our strategy, and aim to be confident in our executions, rather than doing things because we feel we have to or because others may be doing something.
At PokerStars we feel it is always good to focus on why we do what we do and how it benefits our customers because if you get that right, you don’t have to worry about what everyone else is doing.
Poker.org: Does PokerStars identify certain markets first, then identify poker personalities who might fit that slot, or does [site] more closely monitor new and emerging faces in the poker world, whoever and wherever that might be?
Goodall: We are always watching and monitoring anyone or anything that is, or could be, positive for poker, the growth of the industry and our customers and community. As and when new personalities emerge, we see them grow and we often look to support that. If someone within the industry is attracting eyes on the industry, we see this as really positive, and we try to make sure we support it. Where it makes sense, we look to form an authentic relationship or partnership.
The PokerStars Community is at the heart of everything we do. We are always trying to find new faces who share the same love and passion for the game and who will connect with our audiences in different ways.
Poker.org: Who’s a great example of a brand representative for Stars for whom you had standard expectations, but who turned out to offer far more value to your company than you initially expected?
Goodall: This is a tough question to answer because we always set our expectations around why we want to partner with someone in the first place. Plus, as I mentioned previously, if you have partnerships that are born out of a desire for them to be mutually beneficial, often you find that the success of someone has come from their hard work, authenticity and our support. When you start from that point you always hope that where you get to is always going to exceed your expectations, knowing however that you would have been happy with only meeting the expectations you set. I couldn’t single anyone out, but I have worked with hundreds of poker pros and ambassadors, and on activations. It’s very hard to think of any one of them that didn’t offer more value than we set out to achieve during or still in their partnerships with us.
Every brand representative at PokerStars is chosen because we believe they bring something special and real to the game. We’re always looking ahead to see who could do great things with us next.
Featured image source: PokerStarsLearn.com