Today is April 1, 2016. Exactly 10 years ago I conceived the world’s largest strip poker tournament as an April Fools’ joke for Paddy Power with no inkling that four months later we’d actually host the event in London and create a world record with almost 200 players.
It was a stunt which made my name in PR within the gambling business and opened many doors over the subsequent decade.
I didn’t even expect the press release get picked up – surely the joke was too obvious? But national newspapers in the UK and Ireland either fell for it or wanted in on the gag and lots of gambling publications ran with it too both online and in print.
If it had stopped there it would have been deemed a grand success – it took maybe an hour to write, cost nothing and garnered lots of attention.
So much attention in fact that the board of directors at Paddy’s heard of it and one day, a couple of weeks after the hubbub had died down, the marketing director fetched up at my desk, straight from the boardroom and said to me, ‘In one word, do you think we could actually organise this?’ I thought intensely for a few seconds but knew there was only one answer.
And so it was on. The press release said the fictional event would take place in August 2006 so that’s when we set the date and preparations began; finding a venue (surprising difficult), dealing with very strict gambling laws (the event was free to enter as a result and we had very strict security on the door to only allow registered entrants), contacting Guinness to establish our bonafides about setting the record, designing a brand, website, logo and other marketing material, finding players (who weren’t all men!), organising the production unit to film it, hiring dealers and tournament directors, setting the rules (which we changed about an hour into the tournament to promote more… ahem… clothes shedding).
It was no small undertaking. But we got 196 players and the event was covered by ITN, Reuters, Getty, ABC (Good Morning America) and seemingly at least one major news outlet in every country on the planet.
The event was won by Jon Young – a fine champion and fun guy who holds the title to this day.
The bar tab on my room at the end of the after party ran well into four figures and i’ve probably forgotten more funny stories about the day and night than i remember.
In less than one year i’d transitioned from an earnest financial journalist to a silver-tongued spinmeister whose storytelling tickled people all over the world.
It was an object lesson in the power of an idea, the might of the pen, and how storytelling can be transformative and create magic out of thin air.
It was the point where my career finally made sense and i’ve never looked back and all it took was one idea i hesitantly shared as a relative newbie with the marketing team at Paddy Power all those years ago.