The team behind BingoDaily has had dealings of some sort with nearly all of the UK bingo companies. Whether it be reporting on a bingo hall closure, a UKGC fine, or the latest promotion, we've forged good working relationships with most of the bingo brands, retail and online. However, there was one company or rather one company's team that stood out: Mecca Bingo.
The Rank PR and communications team headed up by Catherine Warrilow were by far, in the BingoDaily experience, the most pleasant, responsive, and cooperative in the industry. Catherine brought boundless energy, creativity, and enthusiasm to her role and we cooperated on numerous stories together – both good and bad.
So, it was with sadness when we learned of Catherine's departure from Rank and the UK bingo industry is that little bit poorer.
With boxes and plants in hand, Catherine answered a few of our questions and shared some insight into her time with Mecca Bingo owner's Rank Group Plc (LON: RNK). Here's how it went:
Catherine, after nearly two and a half years as Head of PR and Content at Rank, you are leaving. Why? Are you part of the great resignation we hear so much about?
I am, it's time for my next big adventure! Although it has coincided with the great resignation and I'm sad to move on, for me, I decided to make the move now for a number of reasons. I came from the days out sector so when their Chairman asked to speak to me, having kept in touch over the years, it was an exciting conversation to have. I do think the pandemic has opened people's eyes to what's most important to them about work, and like lots of people, being a busy parent, home working and home schooling has been an unexpected personal challenge that I very much hope not to repeat! However, that juggle has certainly taught me a lot about myself and I will move into my new role older, wiser and more astute to what real prioritisation means – as well as the ability to work in a smarter more focussed way at work, and switch off more outside of work.
Before Rank, what experience did you have of the UK bingo scene, and how did your time there meet any preconceptions you may have had?
None at all! I'd played bingo a handful of times with friends and loved it but it never became a regular pastime as my local bingo hall, (a Gala at the time), was dated and fulfilled all of the stereotypical pre-conceptions that I had!
I came to Rank with some of those preconceptions front and centre I admit. However, I absolutely adore slightly kitsch, British heritage brands and saw a massive opportunity within Mecca to embrace their history and bring it into a new era. Bingo is such a brilliant game and the community around the game, both in club and online bingo is truly one of a kind – where else would you find chat hosts being invited to customer's weddings, having
never met in real life, or people wanting to get married in a venue? People live and breathe bingo because of the people that make these incredible communities – I've never experienced anything quite as special as the relationships between a brand and it's customers as I have in Mecca Bingo – I mean, we had long lost sisters find each other after years apart in a chat room!
It has also been a big learning curve for me from a safer gambling, regulatory and compliance standpoint and I've actually really enjoyed that side of the business. I brought in a couple of guest speakers who had suffered previous gambling harm as well as continuing to support Gordon Moody, the amazing residential facility that we've helped to fund. These things have given our teams a wider perspective on the issues that impact the industry and we have a duty of care to serve.
From a PR perspective it's also forced me to consider content and promotions in different ways and as a leader I think it's made me far more accountable for every single step in a content strategy, always putting the customer right at the heart of what we do.
In your time, you’ve been at the forefront of the most challenging periods in the UK bingo scene. From bingo halls closing to working from home, what were the hardest parts of your tenure?
It's really been a whirlwind and who knew what was in store? What a time to work for a high street hospitality brand, and on the flip side, a digital gaming business all in one!
I started at Mecca at the beginning of July 2019 and my first six months were largely focused on Mecca Fest which was set to be an incredible night of live entertainment, bingo and big prizes at Blackpool Tower Ballroom in May 2020. I don't need to say what happened there – and we held out as long as we could before having to cancel – it was massively disappointing for everyone who'd worked so hard on it as well as the customers who had managed to get hold of the elusive tickets so far.
So, the entire remainder of my time at Rank has largely been at home give or take the easings of lockdown at various points.
Prior to that I was heavily focused on managing the PR and content strategy for the .com business, spending 2-3 days a month in the Gibraltar office where half of my team were based. I found that face time invaluable – as well as enjoying the sunshine.
The hardest part has definitely been having to pivot and adapt on a pretty much daily basis – and alongside that, trying to make all comms crystal clear – mask wearing, changing opening times, new procedures etc. And then when we did properly reopen and got over the Covid measure comms, creating regular and enticing offers and incentives to welcome people back – the 1960s prices campaign we did and Junemas were two of the most successful campaigns and were a massive team effort across my team, the marketing teams and beyond to deliver customer-first comms.
And the best parts of your job?
The people – my immediate team are incredible as are the wider marketing teams. So many big personalities with amazing knowledge and ideas.
Our customer base is just unique and those two things combined have made it a very special place to work – I have a huge amount of gratitude and appreciation for my time at Mecca.
I feel immensely proud that as a team, despite lockdown we came out of it closer and more collaborative than before which is really saying something. We introduced ‘ask me anything' quite early into lockdown and ran 20 different sessions where the team got to ask senior stakeholders anything they wanted to in short 30 minute quick fire session – they picked the ‘victims' and the results were phenomenal on both sides. The team revelled in the insights from across the business and the access to people they didn't get to work with directly – often surprised by the personalities behind the people. And the subjects all enjoyed the escape from the day to day and found the self reflection on their own role, successes and challenges cathartic.
Looking at the bingo scene in the UK at the moment, what’s your take on the situation? Where does bingo fit into modern UK society?
I think it has a brilliant part to play in modern society, especially as our towns and high streets adapt and shift based on the impact of Covid. Consumers want more experiences and they want something more immersive from both retail and their leisure time. This gives a prime opportunity to reach a younger audience and share of the market. Bingo ticks every box – sociable, value for money, everything in one place – food, drink, entertainment – and with the chance to win wrapped around that, it's a brilliant time for bingo to capitalise on changing consumer expectations whilst still honouring the past.
So, onto pastures new. What’s next for Catherine Warrilow?
I'm joining daysout.com in January and I'm eager to get stuck in. I'll be joining as UK MD to lead their growth strategy. It's a sector I know well and they have a brilliant, smart and energetic team. It's part of the wider Digital Rewards Group (DRG), as a relatively recent acquisition, so we'll effectively be running it as a start up with the ambition of making it a household name – the go to site of choice for a day out ticket. I already have lots of ideas buzzing around.
And finally, you are leaving behind some big shoes to fill, what advice would you give to any bingo head of PR?
Thank you! I think the takeaway from my own learning in a sector like this would be keeping asking ‘why' – or even better, ‘why not'. I'm always drawn back to the boardroom scene in Big with Tom Hanks – he's holding the skyscraper Transformer and says “I don't get it, what's fun about that?”. Challenge (constructively) and strive to continually find better creative solutions – it's a brilliant road and the results will always be more rewarding, strategic, commercially beneficially and most importantly – fun.
Bingo is fun, the people are fun – the marketing should always be fun.
From all the team at BingoDaily, we offer a heartfelt thank Catherine for her time at Rank and wish her well on her new adventures.
Ben has been an massive bingo enthusiast and fan since playing at the seaside as a kid. Dedicated to bringing you the latest and best bingo news from the UK