Poker Marketing on a Budget

On the flipside of getting asked a lot about how to get into poker writing, I also find myself being asked for advice from poker rooms, players, and businesses on how to promote their brand. Editorial and marketing have always been closely linked and I would say more than average in poker, what with affiliates playing such a big part in both and the community being so small. 

I've also done a lot of marketing first hand: Occasionally in my roles at PokerNews/PokerStrategy, for my own book and Jared Tendler's services, on occasions as favours to friends and on a paid consultancy basis. Usually I'm giving advice to people on a budget, since the big boys tend to have their own teams and outside consultants doing it. 
This is generally what I say to people who ask me for help marketing something within poker:

Don't pay for advertising: If you are on a budget, I really think it is the kiss of death to pay for the bog-standard forms of advertising like print adverts or online banner ads. The human mind is now so used to seeing adverts on a minute to minute basis that it does a very good job of filtering adverts out unless they are really eye catching. This is not to say they do not work, simply that if the resources are tight then there are much more affordable and engaging ways to promote your brand. 

2+2 Commercial Marketplace: One paid exception I would make for a lot of poker related products is the commercial marketplace on 2+2. This is because not only is 2+2 the biggest English speaking poker community in the world, it also let's you discuss your product on the forum. As you can imagine the moderators have to fend off a lot of spam and poker entrepreneurs who start threads about their product are likely get their posts taken down quickly. 

While a commercial marketplace listing does not give you free reign to spam the rest of the forum, it does allow you to discuss it much more freely. The commercial marketplace is not in the most visited part of the forum, but if a discussion starts about your product elsewhere A) You are much less likely to have it removed and B) You can post in the thread saying "Hi, if you have any questions check out our thread in the commercial marketplace"

We have a commerical marketplace thread for The Mental Game of Poker and we think it has been worth every penny. The cost starts at $100 a month to $1,000 for a year.  

$1,000 for a year really is a steal. It stays on there for a year, you can update and moderate it, and most importantly you can engage with potential customers on the biggest English forum in poker. Compare that to a print magazine ad where it will cost more than $1,000 for a single page advert, and there is no comparison. 

Free content: I've mentioned I'm several other blog posts before but media budgets are not what they used to be. Magazines and websites are always on the lookout for free content and most will be happy to let you promote your product I'm exchange it (as long as it does not present a conflict of interest with an advertiser).

The content has to be genuine content and not just a straightforward advert. Therefore it should usually be on a related topic rather than a direct "buy this" call to action. For example in this Hendon Mob article, tournament organiser Mike Lacey promoted his recent six max event by writing a series of columns about organising poker events. The articles were about poker events in general and only made passing references to his own event until the final signoff. It is quite clear he had an event to promote but it is also quite clearly informative series of features which the readers will find interesting. 

This is what we did with the Mental Game of Poker, we wrote a number of poker psychology articles and gave free excerpts to mags and websites in the early stages of the book. This was where our potential audience was already looking for this sort of content and in exchange for a hyperlink to our book, everyone involved was happy - we were happy with the exposure, the media sites and (hopefully) the audience were happy with the content. 

The trick is to really ease off the spam. You have to first give the reader something they can appreciate on its own merit. That way they will like and trust you and hopefully want to find out more, and they will have the web address in front of them to do just that. 

Guest on shows/podcasts: In much the same vain, there are tons of podcasts in poker trying to get guests to fill a show so just volunteer yourself to go on. Once again, don't just advertise your stuff and leave, talk about the issues of the day, be fun and informative, and as a courtesy the presenters will also ask you about your product. If you are ever in the London area, try and get on Sky Poker as a guest, as that is a huge opportunity and as long as you are fun and respectful of the very close community they nurture they have, it could be a win-win. 

Press release: I have already written about putting together and planning a poker press release, so I'll direct you to that instead. 

Plant a story: A funny thing I have observed about poker media sites (and I'm sure it's the same in other industries) is that sometimes they will ignore a press release, but run the story after someone else has done it first. Poker media sites look towards each other first before they look to information being offered to them. So if you are finding your press release has not gained momentum, the next step I would suggest is taking a personal approach and trying to get a contact at a poker media site to run the story as a favour, or get (or even set up) some poker blogs to run the story, or get some friends to post the a story about it on a popular poker forum. 

It is probably because poker media sites are much more likely to trust their peers and the poker community than someone trying to sell something that this happens. Once a story is on a major like PokerNews, PokerStrategy, Bluff, 2+2, PocketFives or CardPlayer, it is much more likely to get picked up by the rest. Not only is this because of the added legitimacy given by the site, but also because there is now more of a sense that "the poker community is talking about this" and the sense of urgency grows. 

Sponsorships: I've mentioned not paying for forms of advertising and the same largely goes for sponsoring people or things. I see no value in paying to put a patch on somebody, even if they make a major final table (In fact you may find if it is a televised final table they may have strict T&Cs meaning they have to remove the patch anyway). However, if you do have a budget and really want to, learn the lesson from the 2+2 commercial marketplace and sponsor something engaging. 

Sponsor something where you know poker players congregate and wont just ignore your branding. Forums are a great example because this is where poker players meet up and engage with each other. They don't do it anymore but Blondepoker used to have people sponsor individual sub-forums and I think this was quite good value for the sponsors. It allowed them to talk directly with community members and also put them in a positive light as most poker forums are non-profit, meaning the sponsors were viewed as helping the forum stay alive.

If not forums then Podcasts could be a decent alternative, the blogs of very popular poker people or community based poker events. By this I don't mean sponsor a £1,000 buy-in tournament at the EPT, I mean sponsor a £30 'meetup' tournament at DTD for a popular poker community. Something where the people involved have something personally invested in the brand, rather than a standard big money tournament with no personal involvement whatsoever. 

UPDATE 11/10 - PokerFuse Sponsored Posts: This was brought to my attention after I posted this blog initially, but I loved it so much I've updated my post. I have been one of the biggest cheerleaders for PokerFuse since they got going and it is for stuff like this. They have some space on their site which most people use for banner adds/affiliate links, but instead they have sponsored blog posts.

They allow an advertiser to put a featured post about their product on the homepage, and (depending on the package) change it as often as they want. This means they can share much more information than a traditional ad, it appears very much like a regular blog post so it is more likely people will look at it, and the fact that advertisers can change it regularly gives them a greater feeling of control and engagement. I mentioned at the top of this blog that we all are preconditioned to filter out advertisements and the fact I didn't notice these sooner possibly suggests I had still filtered them out, but either way it is still clearly a much more engaging way of advertising. I love the idea. The packages are also reasonably priced, and PokerFuse have such a great reputation in the industry (Because they proudly refuse to be an affiliate site) that aligning your brand with them will be well received.

Social media: I can't even begin to state the importance of social media, there is simply too much twitter advice out there for me to summarise here (There might be a blog or two coming however). You either need to get someone in your team to spend a lot of researching and becoming a social media expert for you brand, or pay someone to do it for you. Ideally the first one. Social media is both a marketing AND a customer service tool, and ideally the voice of your social media should be someone who represents the core values of your company rather than a paid outsider. But if you don't have time or can't get your head around it, make sure you hire someone who is both an expert in social media and an expert in poker, it needs to be a mix of both otherwise it will look disingenuous (Case in point, check out Phil Ivey's joke of a twitter feed, which is clearly ran by a social media expert with little knowledge of poker). 

And forgodsake ask @kevmath for a retweet. 


Robbie Strazynski said...

great stuff! thanks Barry!

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