Paddy Power's Paul Mallon, pictured below with Paul Scholes, explains how the bookmaker signed up the Manchester United legend to rise above the World Cup noise.
When an event like the Cheltenham Festival or World Cup hits it can be carnage in terms of content. Traditional media outlets compete with bookmakers and brands for your attention. As a result, timelines are flooded with all kinds of spam. You ask things like: why is a frozen food company trying to engage me in a football conversation? But there’s an opportunity to rise above all that nonsense and create a spark that stands out for your brand – if you’re the right brand in the right place. Part of our strategy for the Paddy Power Blog is to use both social influencers and a-list columnists to provide an independent voice. And, obviously, they help us reach different audiences. Our blog (part of a mischief newsroom environment) features stats and analysis pieces, guest writers and company propaganda – all designed to draw attention to our Sportsbook and PaddyPower.com. Yes, this company loves mischief but if we’re going to take your money we have to be responsible to give you value back for that loyalty.At Paddy Power we started our content programme for the World Cup in October 2013, working with our Brand team, Mischief Department, Social Media team and PR. We asked: who would NEVER work for Paddy Power? The company wanted someone to provide genuine insight to readers in this disruptive media landscape. Somebody who was really exclusive. Somebody who hadn’t done the rounds on the TV sofas. Somebody whose opinion mattered and who spoke with honesty to football fans. Somebody who was ginger, preferably. Paul Scholes? No chance. With a total of zero newspaper columns, no Twitter or Facebook followers, one appearance on Sky Sports and the lowest ratio of post-match interviews in Premier League history this would be quite a coup. (Let’s not forget those 11 Premier League titles, 66 England caps or two Champions League medals). However, we were inspired by Scholes’ performance in the Class of 92 film and Sir Alex Ferguson’s quotes about his former midfield star. Ferguson, writing in Scholes’ book My Story, said: “He can sense a fake in a couple of seconds, seeing through all the bull every time. If I ask him for a judgement it’s instant and, where, appropriate, absolutely merciless. There’s no messing about. He’s a completely black and white man, and I really love that about him. There is also a wicked humour about Scholesy. For instance, it was never wise to go for a pee anywhere near the side of the training pitch when he was around. I can remember Gary Neville doing just that, trotting a good forty yards away from us and facing a fence. There he was doing his business when suddenly, whack, Scholesy has hit him on the back of the head with a sweet right footer.”
We thought: Let’s bloody go for this. We got in touch with Scholes in late 2013 and polite negotiations continued as we galloped towards Cheltenham 2014. We met Scholes in Manchester for tea, biscuits and a chat about horses. They must have been great biscuits – he was in. We nearly fell over. As part of the deal, Scholes agreed to do a series of exclusive, first-person columns on the World Cup for the Paddy Power Blog, a Twitter Q&A for followers of @paddypower, sign England jerseys, and a video piece.We can’t pretend it was all a piece of cake. As you can imagine for a family man, a player dedicated to his profession and one very conscious of his image, some of Paddy Power’s ideas were a little much. For example, a creative treatment which centred on an animated version of Christ the Redeemer but with Scholes’ head instead was swiftly rejected. However, filmed at Salford FC, he was happy to discuss his favourite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (the red one), the largest animal he could throw over a crossbar (a big dog), and more sensible questions from @paddypower followers such as the best player he’s played with, and his World Cup favourites. The idea behind the Twitter Q&A was, of course, to reward followers with direct answers from one of the football’s all-time greats. The results of this content deal have been exceptional. In terms of social media, our #AskScholes hashtag was trending organically for more than two hours with more than 30m potential impressions. These things normally get messy on Twitter (and they did with ludicrous questions) but we were confident Scholes’ clever answers would disarm any doubters.
As well as enlisting the talents of Stephen Hawking and Simon Kuper to write for us on the Paddy Power Blog for the World Cup (alongside our own in-house editorial team) hits on Scholes’ pieces have been through the roof. His opinion also dominated the sports news agenda in print and online for the group stages of the World Cup. Scholes talks: people listen – there’s no nonsense. Yes it helps Paddy Power’s position as an authentic voice in the World Cup conversation. But, more importantly, we got to ask Paul Scholes about his favourite biscuit.