Entain, one of the world’s largest sports betting and gaming groups with brands like Ladbrokes and bwin, has to contend with a complex marketing landscape which moves at an immense pace. Relevant and contextual advertising is difficult to constantly achieve in such a space, which is why Entain enlisted Storyteq to aid this process of localization and personalization when producing creative assets at scale.
Tabitha knows the place of Creative Automation within the creative production process. In our article, she delves into why automation is a necessity for any digital creative lead or marketing manager hoping to keep a competitive edge. She goes on to assure us that automation removes nothing from creativity itself. If a sea of sameness and boring impersonal content is what your brand wants to avoid, then Creative Automation is in fact for you.
Read on to learn how she masters the careful balancing act between creative and marketing teams.
Hi, Tabitha. First of all: What brought you to Entain initially? And what do you love about your work today?
Wow. What a question. My background and what I do is about transformation. And that is the role I play within the team at the moment. I bring the best people together with the right skills. And I give them the tools and the ability to do what they do best. So what brought me to Entain was the opportunity to work with 27 different brands and each with very specific needs. Lovely brands too: like Ladbrokes and Coral. I’ll look back on my work here and think that that was incredible to implement. At the start, there was a feeling of, “There is a lot to be done, a lot that needs to be optimized and a lot that needs to become more creative”. But those elements all added up to me wanting to be here.
Since starting in your role, what industry changes have you noticed and did you have to adapt to them in any way?
A challenge immediately facing me was that in this huge industry, in a company of this size (25,000 full time employees), with this many brands (more than 20), and given the type of industry we’re in, there were a lot of inefficiencies across the board. There were a lot of different ways of working because they had been individual, discrete units previously. But then of course, because we are such a highly regulated brand, being in the betting industry, things change on a daily basis. You will start doing something and then a week later be told, “No, it needs to be different”.
You definitely need a system in place to manage that. Your creative team, Wave, is huge; does this involve a careful balancing act for coordinating work within the creative operations?
There isn’t another agency like Wave. Wave offers solutions all the way from creative ideation down to the very smallest asset you could need in a channel. And we make sure the idea is pulled through the line, across the entire piece. We try very hard not to release individual assets. They need to be tied into an overarching idea. I don’t know of any other agency which actually offers that solution and it requires a lot of coordination. It requires having big thinkers and creative ideation individuals at the top end. Then we need to understand where it is going, what platforms or channels, making sure the messaging is carried through and then making sure we’ve got the ability to produce it all at scale. So there are a lot of different stages all the way down, and usually it’s done at extreme speed. We have a fabulous craft facility in Manila, a brilliant development facility in India, and then we tend to run the coordination from the London and Gibraltar hubs. The ideation piece happens across those two hubs.
“Don’t just try and continuously add people in order to answer a task that will ultimately kill the joy in everybody’s lives. Automation is not a bad thing. It actually frees up time to let people do more creative stuff.”
Tabitha Winter, Director of Creative Services at Entain
How does your creative team ensure your target audience does not fall victim to ad fatigue in such saturated markets? How important is speaking to your audience on a one-to-one level?
It is incredibly important to speak one-to-one with your audience. We are lucky that we have some great brand marketers who we work very closely with. They make sure that anything we are producing has been very cleverly thought through across its various touchpoints with a coherent message across each piece. When you’re talking about the bits we do outside of Storyteq, we make sure we are developing creative assets which when placed within something like Storyteq, they have sufficient variants to allow the marketing team to generate interest all of the time. We’ll never just put one or two images up there; we’ll put 20 or 30 images for them to look at. So even though the message is consistent and the campaign is consistent, there’s still this freshness because it can be adapted.
Entain has global reach, working within 27 countries. How do you approach the issue of localization and contextual advertising at scale?
That has been a process which has been optimized over many years. Currently, it is a situation where the original piece of copy gets written and approved. We then have an agency partner who translates it into all the languages we require. That then gets put into a system which is linked to all of our websites which manages the translations across all of the different websites. The reason it gets done in that way is typically because all of our websites need it. The next thing we need to do now is for the brands which require localization: we’ll still have that agency partner but somehow we’re going to have to find a way to get them not only inputting to our websites but also inputting static elements for social and stuff in Storyteq. And tie it through that. But we haven’t quite figured out that one yet, we’re still trying to achieve that.
Understandable, as localization is no easy accomplishment. Were you at all hesitant to dive into the world of Creative Automation? What helped allay these fears, if there were any?
I’ve never been concerned about it, primarily because I’ve used it many times and I know how it works. It has a defined place within the process and is another tool in the toolbox you have to use. What I have found is hesitation on the marketer’s side of things and that has taken me by surprise because I’ve never experienced that previously. I have always worked in companies where the brand is very clearly set; the way in which it looked and the assets which it used were all very clear and defined. Within Entain, because of this situation where we had all of these disparate entities coming together who had all done it their own way in the past, we found that there was a misunderstanding about how everything should tie together and how everything should look like a single campaign. The feeling was that if you use automation and templates you end up with work that all looks the same and they were concerned about “sameyness”. So we had to go on quite an education piece to show them that that wasn’t the case and why it was beneficial.
Creative people see it differently. A lot of what automation does for us is that it frees us up from doing the daily, normal stuff. The stuff that needs to get done. The stuff that needs to look a certain way, have a certain type of image, have a certain type of message. Also, we’re a massive test-and-learn company, so to have a designer producing all the variants for the test-and-learn activities is just insanity. So perhaps that we had years of experience already, when the invite was there to move to something that would alleviate that pressure and free them up to do something different and better, they jumped at it.
How do you see Creative Automation as enhancing or complimenting the work of your creative and marketing departments now?
It depends on what we’re doing. With Party Casino, we were doing something that was an incredibly samey task which resulted in incredibly basic assets, but we were able to put that into a template and save hours and hours of people’s time. Now the teams are recognising the place where it belongs and asking, “How do we get this into Storyteq?”
In a practical-speaking sense, how does your team run the Creative Automation process in Entain? What does a company need for it to work?
For the slightly more creative campaign-led stuff we are producing almost every asset under the sun through it because typically a campaign will result in something ridiculous like 800 separate assets across all of the different channels. We have a number of individuals within the team who are Storyteq-trained and in some instances we still lean quite heavily on Storyteq’s Managed Service team for support. The tasks have changed from “Design me this asset” to “Write me the variants for the channel CRM” or “provide the image variants”, or whatever the case may be.
We also look at what is it brands typically need and how regularly they typically need it and therefore what a template would look like in order to answer that: sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s ten, and then we hive off resources in order to design that template, with the thought in mind that this is an ongoing piece of activity that happens on a regular basis, which isn’t necessarily campaign related. And then we release it to the marketers and then, of course, you make sure the marketers who do use it are highly trained.
Do you have any tips for aligning priorities between marketing and creative teams, in order to meet deadlines and achieve brand compliance at scale?
Yes. Hire incredibly strong project managers who really know what they’re doing. Ours are amazing. We typically have between 600-1000 tickets or briefs per month across all of the brands. They manage it incredibly well; we have a very strong resourcing or trafficking team who are able to take on the most amazing amount of work and fit it into the schedule. There are incidents often where we have to push back and go, “look, that brief’s too late” or “there’s not enough time available there” or “we haven’t got the resources for this”. There’s always going to be that sort of concession occasionally. I don’t think in-house teams should ever be set up as capable of delivering everything because sometimes you shouldn’t necessarily be delivering everything that you get asked for.
What campaign have you been most proud of recently? Why? What do you think were some of the elements that made it successful?
There is a campaign I am proud of but it’s not released yet. That piece of work was just one of those moments where everything seems to align. We got the most unbelievable photographer, with the most unbelievable photography. We had the right creative team on it who tapped into the idea and it just worked. It is clever, relevant and contextual advertising. It was one of those moments where everything came together.
Watch this space! What advice would you give to creative leads who are struggling to manage volume and demands for personalization without sacrificing quality?
If they have a set of requirements that lean heavily on a brand look and feel, and they are able to define certain parameters against that brand, automation is highly likely the answer. Release the concern of, “Will it be designed right?” Yes it will, if you set the template up right. Release the concern of, “Well, if our copywriter didn’t write it, it’s not going to sound right”. Train your marketers to write. Or write headline variants or copy variants that they can test and learn with. Don’t just try and continuously add people in order to answer a task that will ultimately kill the joy in everybody’s lives. Automation is not a bad thing. It actually frees up time to let people do more creative stuff.
Where do you think content and creative production is going next or needs to go in the sports betting and gaming industry? Are there any other challenges creative production faces?
I think within the industry there’s a lot of experts delivering assets at scale and doing their jobs brilliantly. I do think, though, the challenges that the industry creates are an interesting one. The challenge is finding the right people who are that smart and also good at their jobs that are able to provide something new in what can so often be sameness.
Finally, what do you find inspires creativity in you the most?
I love plants, gardening, and digging in the mud. You’ll often find me out at the weekend mucking about with horses at the stable. Almost like the total opposite of my job!
Thank you Tabitha for an insightful interview.