With a little help from partypoker’s Tom Waters, Lee Davy takes a look at the role of the online poker ambassador to try and determine if they provide value or create waste?
My brother-in-law is learning Japanese.
I know two words: Arigato and Muda.
The first means thank you. I learned this when I was younger. The kids used to say it to tease me. They were stupid kids. I was half-Chinese.
I learned the second phrase after reading The Machine That Changed The World by Daniel Roos, Daniel Jones, a James Womack. A detailed look at the Toyota Production System (TPS). It means waste when used in the context of identifying value.
Before we learn how the authors define waste, we need to define value.
The Oxford Dictionary states that value is the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
In business terms, the value is defined by the customer. Any activity that doesn’t lend support to this definition of value is a waste. So when it comes to creating value in poker parlance, it’s important to understand what your customer’s definition of value is, and that’s why partypoker has invested so heavily in ambassadors.
As Tom Waters, Head of All Things Poker, explains.
“I wanted partypoker to start to work closer with the players.” Said, Waters. “In the past, we have become detached from local player communities and markets by becoming overly focused on a global strategy.
“Ambassadors help us connect to the players in different markets, and we can learn a lot from the feedback that the Ambassadors collect on our behalf. Players in every market have different expectations and requirements, and the Ambassadors help us ensure that we are working towards meeting these expectations.”
Three years ago, partypoker failed to renew Marvin Rettenmaier’s contract. Two years ago, Kara Scott was also allowed to leave the payroll. And they weren’t the only online poker room shedding this layer of skin back then. PokerStars and 888Poker also made some high profile cuts.
I asked Waters why the change of heart?
Why were they working so feverishly to add to the payroll, when a few years ago, they deployed the opposing strategy?
“I have been heading partypoker for around 18 months now so can’t comment on the prior decisions to part with certain pros.” Said, Waters. “I’m also not sure why pros/ambassadors have been leaving competitor sites. At a guess, I would say that it is due to the difficult market conditions (including regulation that has hit the pockets of all online poker operators) that have caused operators to tighten their belts and that they saw the ambassadors/pros as a dispensable overhead.”
I find it difficult to believe that Waters doesn’t know why partypoker decided to introduce a cull. And even if his guess is right, what’s changed?
I have tried and repeatedly failed, to ask online poker operators how they measure the success criteria of their ambassadors. I don’t think the silence is a way of protecting trade secrets on Roles and Responsibility statements. I don’t think online poker operators have sufficient measures in situ to determine the success of an ambassador.
I asked Waters the direct questions: What is the success criteria? What are their Roles & Responsibility statements?
“This is difficult to answer as each Ambassador has different responsibilities. Ultimately we are looking for the Ambassadors to represent us and to help us spread awareness of our brand and our offering in their local markets. None of our current Ambassadors has failed in their roles.
“Each Ambassador will have similar responsibilities in terms of wearing a patch, PR when playing, sharing our updates versus social media, etc. Some will have wider responsibilities, for example in Brazil Joao Simao has additional responsibilities to help us reach a wider Brazilian audience through different marketing channels.”
If the question is difficult to answer, that means there are no metrics. If there are no metrics, then that means you cannot determine whether ambassadors ‘have failed in their roles.’ Unless their ‘roles’ are very simple:
1. Wear a patch whenever you play live or online.
2. Tweet the shit out of our brand and promote it whenever you can.
3. Get in front of the camera as often as you can.
If they carry out their instructions 100% of the time, then they haven’t failed in their role. If I was running an online poker room, there are three main reasons I would hire an ambassador:
1. Interact with players and supply feedback to help improve churn rate.
2. Promote the brand and attract new players.
3. They ran a large stable of pros.
It’s difficult, but points 1 & 2 should be measurable. You can then agree on a goal with your ambassador and hold regular reviews to measure performance and offer help if they are coming up short.
A good example is the recent signing of Parker ‘TonkaaaaP’ Talbot at 888Poker. The signing makes sense. He has over 80,000 followers across Twitch, YouTube, and Social Media. He will play online at 888Poker thus promoting the brand to those followers. But unless you can track any new entrants as a direct result of Talbot’s influence, you may be pissing in the wind. They might think Talbot’s stream is superb, and then play on PokerStars or partypoker.
Regarding point 3, Bodo Sbrzesny was a great ambassador for partypoker. The German is not a household name, but back in the day, he was running a large stable of online players, and they all played on partypoker because of his affiliation with the site. I imagine Patrick Leonard holds the same appeal, in addition to his likeability factor, communications, and skill levels.
I asked Waters what attributes he looked for in an ambassador and whether they would be following 888Poker and PokerStars direction by hiring a Twitch star?
“The Ambassador has to believe in our strategy.” Said, Waters. “We want to resurrect the old partypoker, and it’s important that the Ambassador shares our values, including the growth and investment in grassroots poker.
“There are no pre-defined requirements that a potential Ambassador must have to join the team and each of our Ambassadors offers something different. Each of the Ambassadors represents our brand so we need to ensure that they carry the respect of the players that we would expect.
“Twitch is booming at the moment, and we are using our Ambassadors on our Twitch channel. We are looking at a few options for growing Twitch engagement, and I would like to work more closely with some of the Twitch stars to help our brand to reach a wider audience. We just need to find someone with the right profile to work alongside our brand.”
Some Good Uses For Metrics
I would love to see the metrics for the efficacy of female versus male ambassadors. Are women better equipped to attract new players to a site, or reduce churn rate, or are the men better? If so, why?
I think metrics are invaluable.
I sometimes see parallels in the way online poker rooms choose Ambassadors and Premier League football clubs choose managers. The same managers regurgitate around the same clubs with very little opportunity for new blood to show what they can do.
I think the same happens in poker.
A few established ‘brandable’ stars move from online poker room to online poker room, with the rest finding it tough to get noticed. Twitch changes that somewhat, but if an online poker room has very distinct metrics that ensure the online poker room’s goals are met, then they could hand pick specific people to lead the charge.
“There is no evidence that women are more effective than men,” Said Waters. “But both Natalia Breviglieri and Jackie Glazier are well respected by the poker community, and I think that possibly they attract different sections of the market than our male ambassadors.”
I am not sure what Waters means by ‘they attract different sections of the market.’ If he meant, they attract women then I assume he would have just said so. He didn’t respond to my follow up questions in time for the article.
Finally, if poker ambassadors are appointed to talk directly to grassroots players and feedback to the online poker room. What is the poker room doing with that information?
I recently watched Stranger Things. It was a Netflix Original meaning the show was designed based on the data they had uncovered from the viewing habits of their members.
Stranger Things was Poltergeist, Stand by Me, and The Goonies.
Because Netflix knows what we like, it’s a sure fire bet that the shows they create will also tickle our fancy.
I asked Waters if the feedback he is getting from his ambassadors allows the online poker room to do the same thing at Netflix.
“Difficult question,” said Waters. “We are constantly analysing player behaviour, and the results are used daily to optimise our schedule and product offering.”
I want to thank Tom Waters for his input, but still many questions remain unanswered when it comes to the value that ambassadors create for an online poker room.
It wasn’t that long ago that Full Tilt handed out sponsorship deals like confetti and the only ‘work’ that the ambassador had to do was to play while wearing a badge of honour.
People tell me that things have changed.
I think they have, but the online poker rooms aren’t completely satisfying my thirst for understanding.
When it comes to ambassadors, they could be providing pukka value, or they could be 100% pure Muda.
I just don’t know for sure.