Horse Racing Ireland’s first TV advertising campaign for 11 years hit the screens last night in the start of a major long term campaign to drive up interest and engagement with the sport.

Yesterday we gave Sport for Business readers a first sight of the advertisement and this morning we catch up with Horse Racing Ireland Commercial and Marketing Director Paul Dermody to find out the thinking behind the campaign.

SfB: It seems a long time since hector exorted us to Let Ourselves Go. What prompted the return to mainstream media promotion of horse racing?

PD: We have created a five year stratgic plan which has three key pillars for the general public and each of those will be part of what is a detailed plan to engage more with the broad public.

Research shows that 24 per cent of the general public have an interest in horse racing and the target over five years is to push that up towards 30 per cent. We also want to enahnace the experience that people get when they go racing and to drive higher attendance at meetings across the country.

The TV advertising is really just the first step in what will be a major exercise to tell the story of what it is like to be involved in racing at many different levels.

SfB: How heavy is the campaign likely to be and for how long?

PD: The TV Campaign is a strong one and will run through to Christmas in the first phase. We will be visible in the Rose of tralee programmes on RTÉ on Monday and Tuesday and throughout the coming weeks across the most popular programmes including news bulletins in prime time on RTÉ and Virgin Media.

The Champions’ Weekend at Leopardstown and the Curragh in a couple of weeks is a big early target for awareness and then we get right into the heart of the jumping season.

The campaign will dial up and down in terms of the number of spots but it will be noticed and the impression will be that this is an always on campaign.

SfB: How deep have you gone with the different groups that make up the sport in terms of gaining their support?

PD: The creation of the strategic plan involved a very robust engagement with all the different elements of the sport and there are many of them.

The sport is made up of racecourses, owners, trainers, social recgoers, bookmakers, the tote, breeders and so many more. Each has a particular need in terms of attracting greater interest from a wide cross section of society and each has been encouraged by how we have gone about including them in the conversation.

Part of the campaign has been the creation of a new brand and identity for Horse Racing Ireland that can synchronise with the different activities that are taking place in so many different areas.

SfB: Does that mean that Horse Racing Ireland will be more to the fore as a brand?

PD: The previous branding was twenty years old, dating back to the creation of Horse Racing Ireland as a governing body. The new brand has a fresh look. It is cleaner and more suitable for the digital environment we now exist in.

It has been created to sit alongside other brands in the sport like the racecourses, the Tote or Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and to sit alongside in the manner of how The Arts Council works in that space or Sport Ireland as a partner and enabler of others.

Over time it will evolve so that we can be seen in similar light as supporters of the sport and the industry in its wident context.

The promotion of ownership by syndicates is an important element of how we want to engage people and the brand that was created as part of the Ownership drive will fit neatly as part of the services which are offered and supported by Horse Racing Ireland.

SfB: What are you doing to enhance the experience of being at the races?

PD: There has been significant investment in racecourse facilities with the total redevelopment of The Curragh as the flagship project over the last two years.

A major part of what we have done at every racecourse is to invest in free wifi services.  This is something which we recognise is a need for people who are coming to us to spend a day or an evening.  It is also important in that it provides us with more detailed data on how and why people are coming and what they are doing while they are with us.

Having a better profile on who are customers are and what they want puts us in a great position to deliver experiences that will appeal and drive greater engagement to come back.

There is a greater sense now of educating people on what to look out for and how to enjoy a day at the races.  This has been made possible by an increase in media partnerships like that with Off The Ball where we have helped to bring knowledge and a better understanding of the story behind each performance to a wider audience.

SfB: is it fair to say that betting has always been a prime driver of engaging with Horse Racing and how important is that in looking forward, especially at a time when there is greater social concern over the potential for problem gambling.

PD: There is no doubt it is a factor but it is only part of the experience and not even the most important one.

As part of the detailed research and insight we undertook as aprt of the strategic planning it emerged that the social side of being with friends was the most popular reason people gave for their enjoyment of a day at the races.

Having a bet is part of that alongside having a drink, having food and having comfortable surrounding s in which you can enjoy yourself.

SfB: Where will the campaign go in its next stages?

PD: The TV and image based advertising are a first step but we will be diving deeper into the different aspects of what makes the sport so great to be a part of.  This will involve the creation of our own additional media and content from podcasts to video and more.

We will be working with the different elements of the sport to create a sense where they can use centralised resource and assets to tell their own story and to do so in a really professional and consistent manner.

Horse Racing Ireland is the central body for the poromotion of the whole sport, hence the different elemsnts of the ad.  We are here though as well to support individual racecourses, our Ownership team and the Tote in their more specific campaigns.

SfB: Who created the campaign with you?
We worked with Atomic Sport on creating the brand proposition and the identity and with JWT Folk who are our lead creative agency.
It is a significant investment on our part but there are clear metrics that we will judge it against in terms of delivery and success.  The key is to raise the level of interest in the sport and then to deliver an experience that will keep people coming back for more and bringing their friends.
A day at the races really is a great day out.  it’s our job to tell that story in the best possible way.

Image credit: Morgan Treacy, Inpho.ie