Learn how your brand can start marketing within the gaming and esports community with our guest John Higgins.
John currently heads up OS Studios - a live production and creative agency that specializes in video gaming and esports. Before working in video gaming, John was an award-winning creative director recognized globally for his work in television commercials and live broadcasts.
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About your host, Jason Mudd
On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies for 2021.Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/OnTopofPR)
- Welcome to "On Top of PR," we've got a great episode for you today with John Higgins, from OS Studios. We're talking about e-sports and gaming and how to get immersed and activated, and your brand into that space, how big it is already, and how much bigger it's going to be, and what are some best tips and techniques that brands should do to get the most out of that experience. This is going to be a great episode. Please share it with your friends and colleagues who would be interested in it, so we can all learn more together and start preparing for what's around the corner.
- [Announcer] Welcome to "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.
- Hello, welcome to "On Top of PR," I'm Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations, your host. And today I'm joined by John Higgins with OS Studios. John heads up OS Studios, a live production and creative agency, that specializes in video gaming and e-sports. Prior to working in video gaming, John was an award-winning creative director, recognized globally for his work in commercial television and live broadcast. Welcome to the show, John.
- Hey, thank you for having me.
- It's really glad to have you here. I'm glad to be here, I'm glad you're here to share some interesting information with our audience. I want to kind of expose them a little bit to who you are and what you do, and more importantly, how their brands could be benefiting from getting immersed into e-sports, in the gaming space. I think this is obviously more than a trend, because it's been around so long, but I think so many brands aren't yet involved and I think you're going to be the expert guide to kind of walk them through today. So setting that high bar John.
- Yeah, thanks for that.
- You're welcome. Tell our audience a little bit more about yourself and maybe more specifically some of the work you've done as a creative director in some of your award winning experience.
- Oh gosh, okay, so a little bit about me. So without going too deep is, I actually began my career in theater in London and-
- [Jason] I can't hear that at all.
- I know, the commanding voice of it. So I began that and really what was doing there, I was much more of a producer director. I started my first company called Mayhem, of all things, and it produced plays, it produced all sorts, some musicals, even did some operas around Europe, and it found some great success there, which actually, that work though led me to more getting into experiential corporate work, let's say, brands wanting to do big events. And when I started doing that, that exposed me to the world of marketing and to the world of, oh, wait a minute, there can be some really big budgets here and things like that. And then it also made me question, well, the big reason, I joined the industry as a sort of a creative director was to be able to share my work and to tell stories. And of course the only downside to experiential, this is maybe 15 years ago, 10, 15 years ago, was you would make these shows, but it's really hard to then talk about them afterwards. And so really what I wanted my company to do quite early on was to really work with like, in the AV medium. So what that led to is we were one of the earlier companies that did a lot of the social media work, so we'd approached events like digital first experiences and things like that, with myself and my business partners. And a long story cut short, that got us some really cool jobs where we became in effect in the UK, one of the go-to like creative teams, to do gaming activations, of all things, I don't know, coming from theater. So I directed things like, for YouTube, things like Stellaris' big new launch of a new series, and it'd be like six to eight episodes. So it was no longer just 30 second TV spots, but actually, let's get influencers involved. And it was like the earlier days of experiential, going into media and stuff like that. And while we were doing that in London, getting a bit of reputation, it got the attention, I should say, of some people at the NBA, you've probably heard of them in America, especially at a good friend of ours, worked at the offices in New York. And his job at the time was actually working within more of the gaming partnerships with the NBA. And at the time they were doing the NBA, what was it called? The NBA2K, Road To All Star, I think it was called. And it was a $250,000 price pool. And again, this was some years ago, where I remember hearing there's a $250,000 prize pool for someone to play a game. I was like, wow. Anyway, so we ended up doing, we partnered with the NBA, we did this show, it was broadcast in the NBA's offices. It went really well and effectively, the team we were working with in the UK for the NBA then, some of those guys were taken to the New York office to build the NBA2K League. And they basically asked if myself, if our creative team, hey, we loved what you did in London, could you do that in America? And so we then got a footing as it were in New York, got an office space, I should say. And we started servicing the NBA and they were really our first client in North America.
- [Jason] That's a good first client to start with, John.
- Right, and they gave us a lot of trust. Shout out to Samer Asfahani, actually, the guy who was one of the people that created the league with us, who actually then became my business partner, funny enough. But yeah, when they were creating that league, they were very much, obviously it's the NBA, right, they knew what they were doing when it comes to sport, but they were on the forefront of this exploration into, well, what is e-sports to the non-endemic market? And so they were like, they did like exclusive deals with Twitch, I think it was the first sporting league to do an exclusive deal with Twitch at the time. So big waves were being moved. And so we were really their content partner. So we did a lot of our social media content, announcement, marketing hype, anything that was cool, that they wanted digitally, they would come to us. And anyway, so from there we did a really good job. And in fact, then as I say, my now business partner, the then head of content for 2K League, it was like love at first sight. So we then joined forces and created OS together. We saw that, look at the NBA, look at what we did with Twitch, and stuff like that. And we realized, actually, there's a big market here and it's about to blow up. Like, gaming's a sleeping giant. So we created OS, And over the last two years, we became one of Twitch's go to agencies, and then all these brands were coming to Twitch, like Anheuser-Busch, like Bud Light, and even recently TurboTax, all these big brands were coming to Twitch, like, how do we get into gaming? How do we activate? And they would always send them to OS, which was something I'm very proud of. And then most recently, March this year, we were acquired, OS got acquired by Project Worldwide, which is an awesome organization, it's a global collection of agencies. And so now we're part of the Project family, which has sort of supercharged what we were doing. 'Cause imagine we now have this like global force behind us, supercharging all our services, and exposing us to all of that brands that they represent within the Project Network. So it's been a bit of a whirlwind, but that's my story, I would say in a nutshell, but yeah, not so much of a nutshell.
- That is a great story. And I appreciate you walking us through your entrepreneurial journey and how you got in early. And that's the key part, right? For any breakthrough disruptive industry, getting there early is where it pays the most profit and the most dividends. But ultimately John, I mean, I think that is a great way to kind of set up this conversation. So one of the questions I knew we were going to explore is to help our audience understand, what's the difference between gaming and e-sports? And you mentioned e-sports a couple of times, so let's just make sure we're all on the same page with that.
- Yeah, that's a really good point. So let's level set the field. Okay, so the gaming industry is currently worth about 175 billion, which is a lot, and it's geared to go to about 325 billion within five years. Yeah, it's bigger than Hollywood, it's bigger than film, it's bigger than TV, it's a giant. People don't realize just how big gaming is. Now, when I say gaming though, I mean every aspect of gaming, that's everything from the things you would expect like, oh, gaming, Fortnite, Call of Duty, the sale of those games. It also involves anything from like games on your phone, like if you're commuting to work and you're playing a game on your phone, it involves that as well. It also within gaming, it includes e-sports. But when I say gaming, you really need to consider the entire gaming market. Especially when you look at Gen Z, 25 and under, how are they interacting? What do they do? How do they fill their time? A lot of that is gaming. The way they even chat is they go to the chat function within video games to talk to one another. It's like the dark social as it were. Now, e-sports, that's a sector, that's a part within gaming. And that's the competitive, the professional competitive part of gaming. E-sports right now is worth about a billion, so it makes you realize over that 175 billion industry, only a billion of it right now is e-sports. And it's really, really important you know the difference 'cause everyone always thinks of gaming and they always go straight to that, oh, gaming's blowing up, look at Team Liquid or look at 100 Thieves and they're doing really well. But the gaming industry is so much bigger than that. And I guess, a few more points actually just to sort of get your head around is, so a lot of the biggest earners in gaming aren't necessarily the best players, the best e-sports athletes in the world, are not necessarily the biggest earners or the most famous in gaming. It's actually, it's the content creators, the people that are on Twitch, those are the people that make a lot of money. They're really brands in themselves. Like the way you should look at some of these top streamers, like the obvious ones, you've got like Ninja, you've got Shroud, Nickmercs, all these big ones, especially on Twitch, Dr DisRespect on YouTube, it's like saying, oh, I watch them, it's like saying, oh, I watched, let's think of something on Netflix, "The Queen's Gambit," they themselves are just shows. And it's incredible when you think about it, 'cause it's one person, normally has a little team behind them and they're just sitting in their bedroom, their basement wherever, and they're creating this content and it's getting similar viewership to the top shows on Netflix or HBO. So when you look at gaming, you should really look at the content creation aspect and how all these games have become more social. And the idea is they're more favored to create content like Fortnite, the dancing, everything about that game is viral and it encourages you to make your own content. And in fact, within those games, they encourage you to build your own worlds, that's why Roblox is so popular, you build your own versions of games within a gaming platform. So the gaming space is massive, and the e-sports space isn't as big, but it's growing very quickly and it has a very serious audience to the e-sports space. And then I guess the last factor of e-sports is, around 70% of all revenue in e-sports is sponsorship, which is obviously a lot higher than traditional sports. So when you think PR, when you think brands, that means there's a huge amount of opportunity, there's a wealth of places you could get your brand either into e-sports or gaming. Does that help a little bit, paint a picture?
- Absolutely. I'm the father of two teens and I see them living this lifestyle that you're describing with Twitch always open and making contacts and connections worldwide, they're making friends and collaborators, as well as competitors. And then as the kids say, IRL, right, in real life, my son met one of his friends through gaming who was vacationing where we live. And so they got together and hung out, IRL, and went in the pool and went to the beach and things like that, and they had a great time together. And it's so interesting and so different from when I grew up and I assume when you grow up, John, we didn't have this community to leverage. And certainly, I don't want to say kids are doing it, but consumers are doing it. And that's where brands have this incredible opportunity to get immersed into it as well. And so I guess my next question to you, well, first of all, I just want to comment, what I heard you say really resonated with me in that I think when people think about influencers, they automatically think of Instagram and health and beauty products, but really, I sense the bigger influence is happening in this e-sports and gaming environment like you described. And so I would encourage brands that maybe think, well, we're not really a health and beauty brand, therefore influencers aren't for us, to really think way more expansive, and look at how their brand can become immersed in and part of that community. So back to you, John, where would a brand who maybe isn't doing anything today in e-sports or gaming, where might they get started and what are kind of some best practices to be thinking through?
- Yeah, a question we get asked daily, because that's what OS does, it's like our bread and butter is getting brands and navigating the gaming space. So, well, let me start with like a recent, just top level case study that I thought, it surprises a lot of people and that was TurboTax. So TurboTax is now in gaming and you, you probably ask, how? Like how?
- Why? And we actually recently did a series of shows with TurboTax on Twitch where effectively TurboTax is, let's look at their campaign. So they went to Twitch and was like, we want to activate, we want to get into gaming, but we want to get onto Twitch as well, and we'll talk about the Twitch ecosystem briefly in a bit, 'cause that's more than gaming, there's more. And so what they did is they created effectively a show with TurboTax, where they had people playing games and we don't need to go into like the run of the show, the actual details. But the strategy behind it was we're going to do something entertaining on Twitch that people want to watch. And while that's going on, we're going to encourage people in the chat to ask questions about tax. And it worked. Going through the chat and stuff like that, people would be like, hey, what do I do about this form? Hey, do I need to pay tax full stop? Because of, as you know, there's this funny gap where people from the age of 18, 19 to 25, no one seems to know about taxes. It's just something you seem to learn as you get older. And so TurboTax-
- [Jason] As you start earning, you start getting more of a burden.
- Exactly, as you start realizing that side of tax. So I think TurboTax realized that actually there's a crucial time of within this demographic, this age group, where you could educate them, or give them a safe space to ask these dumb questions. I say dumb or just questions that they feel that should know, which often is the way it goes. And anyway, they did these series of shows and they had tax experts on the show, answering questions in the chat while we're doing entertainment and stuff like that. And it was a big success, the viewership was insane. It was like, I think at one point it was, it was in the tens of thousand concurrence, if not the hundreds, it was a big success. So taking a step back from that in terms of, for a brand, some good best practices is first of all, really understand that within gaming, it's not just for boys who like killing or like gaming, It's really about understanding, well, the demographic is within gamers, your average game now is like 27, 28, it's actually just above the Gen Z threshold. Almost half now are female in terms of gamers, and stuff like that. And it's really well, where are people watching this? If you want to get your brand for people to engage, where are people watching this? Well, the biggest, the giant in this space is Twitch. So I'd say first best practice is get on Twitch. Now, whether that's put your own channel up or just work with like influencers or Twitch streamers, that really depends on what you're trying to achieve, but whatever you do is don't go, which some brands do, don't go thinking I need to go straight to e-sports, I need to go straight to a league, or I need to go straight to in-game drops or activations. To begin with, just go work with one of these content creators effectively, come up with a show idea, or something like that with them, and just start building your brand's messaging. And make sure it's as endemic as possible. Don't just do a logo slap, don't be like, I want to sponsor this person, can I have my logo on your show, for the whole show? It'd be much more powerful to say, I want five minutes of your show, where it's going to be this unique, this original idea, that we're coming up with together, that we say unapologetically, this piece of entertainment is brought to you by so-and-so. And what we're about to do involves their product. Hence like TurboTax, we literally used their product on the show. Another great example would be, I think actually-
- [Jason] Actually, John, John, hold that thought, we're going to take a quick break and come back and then we'll cover that and even more with you.
- [Announcer] You are listening to "On Top of PR," with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.
- Welcome back to "On Top of PR," thank you for staying with us during that break. We do want to recognize ReviewMaxer as being our presenting sponsor of "On Top of PR." And we're joined with John, and John you were just about to tell us about how some brands have integrated into gaming consoles, including a Bud Light and perhaps KFC. John, tell us more about that.
- Yeah, it's actually a really, a stroke of genius actually to the teams behind it. So within the gaming space, we're talking about brands like, get yourself on Twitch, don't just go straight for the big names or something like that. But another thing you can do to get a lot of earned media, and some of that was done really well, is don't just think digitally. So if you look at people like Bud Light, a couple of months ago, they created this, no joke, they built this customized Bud Light holder, like a cooler, that had a games console built into it. So the idea was you could play your favorite games and as well as that though, this console kept your beers cold. It was really cool, it was also-
- [Jason] He do I get one of those?
- You know what, they are hot stuff. When that was announced though, they didn't make very many of them and they would go on eBay for thousands, as you can imagine.
- [Jason] I believe it, yeah.
- And another great one that was done was, I think this one, I don't know if they actually ended up building them, I'd have to check, but KFC over in the UK, they launched the KFC Console, which was the idea of, again, you'd play your game, but it was a bucket, there was a console inside it, but also it had a chicken, a chicken fryer to heat the chicken, it was great. So the idea is you'd play your game, warm your KFC chicken up at the same time. But those obviously, went viral, incredible for PR. But, it was another example of, like I was saying, don't be scared to say, this is our brand, and we're going to give you something entertaining. We understand you want a cold beer when you're playing a game, let us make you the ultimate experience there that you can have in your house. And it really lets gamers and the sort of gaming demographic know that, hey, do you know what? That brand really gets us, I might want to reward them. And to talk about reward quickly. Apologies, I can go on and on about this is we once did an activation with, I'm trying to get the name of them now, they were called Rockin' Protein, Rockin' Protein. And it's like a milkshake, it's a protein drink. And it was a company that was entering into the gaming space with Rockin' Protein. The idea, it gives you more protein, that makes you better performant when it comes to gaming. And they did a collaboration with someone called Voyboy, who's a incredible League of Legends player, and a personality as well.
- I've heard of him.
- Yeah, Voyboy, we did this thing with him, where effectively, they were like, hey Voyboy, we just want to put you with your personality inside really popular gaming moments. For example, we all know, you know Street Fighter when they do the, hadouken, and they shoot off like a bolt of lightning.
- [Jason] I think it goes, hadouken.
- Hadouken. And you have to power it up, so we got Voyboy to do that. So we got him in a green screen studio, like a Marvel style studio, and we got in just to power up and to shoot that off. We did another one with Zelda, where he discover, you know when he discovers a chest in Zelda, and he opens the chest, but inside it was the Rockin' Protein. We did a few more like, really famous examples.
- That sounds fun.
- It was so fun, but the reason. what I mean by reward is when they dropped on his Instagram, his Twitter, and stuff like that, when you scroll through the comments, of which there were loads, people were literally saying things like, this is so good, I'm buying Rockin' Protein, and there'd be people then showing photos of them drinking, Rockin' Protein. Because there's a real loyalty within the gaming community, more than more than other industries, like they will reward you if you give them what they want.
- It's impressive that something can start becoming so mainstream and still maintain the level of loyalty that you're describing, and I see that firsthand as well. First of all, I just think for our audience, what other vodcast or podcasts are you going to tune in today that's talking about fried chicken, beer and gaming? I feel like we're headed into the weekend already, so-
- It's every day at OS.
- That's right, so if you want a job at OS, you send an email where?
- Exactly, oh man. It's good fun at OS.
- Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so we're kind of quickly running out of time here today. So what other information did you want to impart onto our audience?
- Oh gosh, I mean, I feel like I should, if anyone out there is interested in understanding more about gaming or the gaming space, e-sports or to be honest with you, just digital activations with Gen Z, please do search OS Studios or look me up and get in contact because OS Studios, we're growing quickly, we're now part of a big formidable network that supercharged our services. And our mission right now is just to get as many people understanding the gaming space and positioning OS really as a knowledge center to help people, with obviously no commitment. But I'd just like everyone to know, that's what we're about and we'd love to work with you.
- Yeah, that sounds great, John, I really appreciate all the knowledge and expertise that you've shared today. I think we're going to open up some eyes into thinking bigger about this, more expansively about the opportunity. And I would just express to our audience that you were right on point with, it's not just sticking a logo somewhere, right? It's way more than that. Putting your logo somewhere does not create that type of loyalty and user experience and immersion that you were describing where these other great examples that you shared. And by the way, as we talked about during the break, please share some of those logos with us so that, I'm sorry, not logos, links to us and examples that you've described to us, we'll put them in the show notes, so people can actually kind of visually see exactly what we're talking about. And I think that would be very helpful to the individuals that are consuming this and they can visually kind of see what you're describing. Of course, we put those links in the show notes. And John, I just want to say, thank you for being here today, this was a very cool episode and I've got a lot of good content to share back with my team, our clients, as well as my teenage son and daughter who are constantly gaming. And I watch what they're doing and I just see the incredible potential that's there. And you're right, I mean, even their babysitter, she's a huge gamer and she married, she met her husband, 'cause they bonded over games. And so now they're raising kids and those kids are gaming. And so it's something that is not only huge today, but it's going to be bigger and bigger after, with more immersion, integration, and generations to come. So John, what a great episode, thanks for being here.
- Not at all, I loved it. And you summed up perfectly. Within 10 years it won't be a question of like if, it would just be normal that everyone games, it'd be like social media 10 years ago. Like, hey, are you on social? No one asks that anymore.
- Well, and what just came to mind is, when I was in college, we talked about the big screen, the small screen, and in my career we've had the mobile screen, so that was kind of the third screen, but now there's this whole other, I don't know if you'd call it screen or whatever, but we all know the home screen is going away as far as traditional television viewing goes. And people are watching shows on the go and on demand now and cutting the cord of cable. And I think as you mentioned, these kind of influencer type shows are going to be, I think in many ways, the future.
- Well, John sounds like we could have a whole nother episode about that, maybe we will. Thank you so much for being here today.
- No worries, thank you for having me.
- Yeah, thank you. So that concludes another episode of "On Top of PR." This was a very high energy, exciting episode. If you found it valuable, please share it with a colleague who you think would enjoy it too. And if you're like me, maybe even share it with your kids and tell them a little bit more, help them understand more of what you do for a living, and pick their brain, bring them in as a focus group, or an ideation session where you could figure out how your brand might get more integrated into the e-sports and gaming environment. I wish you much success doing that, and I think you'll be glad you did it too. Speaking of being glad, I'm glad you were here, I hope you were glad to. And from here, go enjoy some fried chicken, beer and gaming.
- [Announcer] This has been "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode and check out past shows at ontopofpr.com.