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IN-DEPTH 11 April 2016
Making Ladbrokes’ voice heard
In an exclusive interview, his first since taking over as Ladbrokes CMO in January, Kristof Fahy talks to David Cook about his return to the industry and vision for the operator ahead of its merger with Gala Coral
By David Cook

It has been a hectic time of late for both Kristof Fahy and Ladbrokes. Fahy’s appointment as the betting operator’s CMO marks another significant change for the company within the last year, following appointments of both a new CEO and chairman, and the announcement of a planned merger with Gala Coral in July that is currently awaiting approval from the Competition and Markets Authority. Having left his position as CMO of William Hill in March last year, Fahy has returned to the industry after a stint working as CMO for Telegraph Media Group. While still familiarising himself with his new surroundings, Fahy was able to speak exclusively to Gambling Insider at Ladbrokes’ London office. What’s immediately clear is that implementing fresh ideas while retaining a clear brand message is essential to his strategy.

How do you feel you have settled into the new position at Ladbrokes?
It’s been terrific. I’ve barely been here a month so I’m still getting my bearings but it’s incredibly exciting. I missed the pace of this industry whilst I was out of it and I’ve arrived at a firm which has a great buzz about it again. The pace is there and the energy, so I’m relishing the opportunity to get stuck in with a talented team.

What did you learn from your time at William Hill that will assist you in this new position with Ladbrokes?
I know how strong the Ladbrokes brand is from my time at William Hill. We used to see all the brand-tracking data which consistently showed that Ladbrokes has the strongest brand in the industry. Back then it was a source of frustration for us, but now I’ve got the opportunity to work for the number one brand in bookmaking and make it even better. I know the industry. I think I had a pretty good track record of delivery at Hills and I know just how competitive this space is. If you can’t move quickly you’ll get left behind, and it’s that sense of pace and intensity that I’m keen to bring to an already-energised team. We’re not going to be shy about going after customers again.

Jim Mullen [Ladbrokes CEO] also worked at William Hill as COO and international director in the time you were there. To what extent did this influence your decision to come to Ladbrokes?
Jim and I worked together, and when I saw he’d got the CEO job at Ladbrokes last year it definitely pricked my ears. When he asked to meet me, we shook hands and he simply asked: “When can you start?” That attitude is great. I think Jim is like me in that he was envious of the Ladbrokes brand when we worked at Hills together. He and I know what the other is capable of and Jim is getting things motoring again here so his leadership was a big pull. He knows the aspirations I have to make Ladbrokes number one again through investing in our marketing and we share that vision.

How has the gaming industry changed since you began working in it?
We went from an online focus in 2010 to a mobile focus in 2012 and now it’s all about multi-channel. The point is we don’t care how customers use us, we just want them to use us over our competitors. Changes are good, I have a natural curiosity and will keep my eyes open for the next opportunity and the next industry shift. There aren’t many industries where the pace of change is so intense but that’s what makes it so appealing.

We need to get customers engaged without them really thinking about channels
What do you think Ladbrokes needs to do to improve or increase its marketing presence?
It’s simple, we need to invest. If we want to be number one, marketing investment is absolutely critical. We’re not going to be shy. We already have great channels but we need to tie together a lot more of the marketing activity to ensure we’re delivering great value for each of those channels. We have the heritage and we have a brand name that is the best out there, but in the digital space especially we need to grow scale back into that brand. We know what we need to do and we’re fully focused on making up the ground.

How do you think operator marketing affects consumers’ views of the industry?
The gambling industry has consistently undervalued its marketing credentials. We do marketing better than many industries do, but at its heart we need to understand what marketing is really about for a business like Ladbrokes. It’s not about the brand in itself or about the advertising. It’s about driving future cash flow. That is the purpose of marketing and if we can do that we are doing things right.

What are your future plans for marketing campaigns?
The Ladbrokes Life actually tracks quite well. I was a bit surprised by that when I arrived because I’d seen the work and I wasn’t its biggest fan. It felt a bit like putting your segmentation work on the TV but the stuff I’ve seen since I’ve been here shows it’s pretty good. I’m going to have a good look at it and as a new CMO I’m sure to have new ideas to ensure we punch at our weight.

Complaints about two of the “Ladbrokes Life” advertisements were upheld in 2014. How has this impacted on your thinking for future campaigns?
I’ve only just arrived so won’t worry too much about the past.

In which direction do you see the marketing side of the industry moving?
There’s no harm in going after what our key competitors are going after. All supermarkets are chasing the food shopper at the moment because that’s where the big prize is. If a company is truly customer-centric, the marketing for all of the channels needs to be seamless. We need to get customers engaged without them really thinking about channels. We also need to be visible where we know our customers are. We need to maximise our sponsorships and get our basics right – things like SEO, they’re the brilliant basics. We have loads to talk to our customers about. We just need to make sure we are heard in the right places at the right times.

How will the planned merger with Gala Coral affect your role?
Right now my focus is on Ladbrokes rather than on Ladbrokes Coral. I need to make an impact at Ladbrokes and it’s that work which really excites me at the moment. I’m not going to pre-empt the CMA process which is ongoing, but down the line which CMO wouldn’t be excited about working with two of the best brands in the same merged company? We’d have to look at where the brands work well together and where there’s scope for differentiation. Having two brands like Ladbrokes and Coral working together ought to frighten some of our rivals.

From a marketing perspective, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities the merger with Gala Coral will present?
We need a single point of marketing leadership. We have finite resources and we need to ensure they’re all facing in the right direction if we’re going to make the most of the opportunity.

What direction do you see the industry moving in over the next few years?
In the past half a dozen years or so there have been a multitude of new operators. It’s always changing and is ever more competitive. When there’s a surge of change and new players, the value of having a megabrand like Ladbrokes carries even more cachet. It provides us with a fantastic opportunity to differentiate ourselves from competitors.

What is the best piece of marketing advice you’ve ever been given?
Be curious. Keep an open-minded attitude and always stay interested in customers and how they’re behaving. A natural curiosity is key to that.

This article appears in the March/April issue of Gambling Insider
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