W takes World Chess mainstream

21 January 2019

We took a leaf from London 2012 to deploy PR to lead a repositioning of chess for the World Chess Championships held in London in November 2018. At the close of the tournament a CNN report declared ‘Chess is brutal. Chess is now cool’, but that wasn’t the case when we started work on the event 12 months prior.

World Chess had a serious image problem. The ’70s. Geeks. Not cool, not sexy. More than this, though. Chess was not recognised as a sport, it is classified as a game. It was a ‘not one for us’ with sports desks and as as a result had no other natural place in media.

Our strategy was to create a sense of mass participation, making 2018 ‘The Year of Chess’.  This would be achieved through strategic partnerships with sponsors, charities and the UK’s chess community.

It was less about one big media moment (such as floating a giant chess board down the Thames or Gemma Collins dressed up as a rook), rather the curation of a strong, dynamic calendar of impactful activity that positioned World Chess as an exciting new form of entertainment that was coming to London.

A 12-month PR campaign saw us take chess off the puzzle ‘pages’ into news, sport, culture and mainstream media. This included a global launch in London with Evening world champion Magnus Carlsen and Evening Standard editor George Osborn; a six-page profile of champion Magnus in The Saturday Times magazine; a VIP launch event at the V&A, and a daily press office with ‘new news’ every day of the three-week tournament.

Our impeccable media relations strategy had earned us the respect and attention of news and sports editors in the UK and across the globe, negotiating a free live daily blog on The Guardian, daily coverage in the Evening Standard, BBC Radio Five Live, Al Jazeera, CNBC, along with features in the likes of Forbesand Time.

By the end we’d racked up 2,600 pieces of coverage including the front pages of the FT and Guardian, live reports TV reports on BBC and Sky News, CNN and even talkSPORT took timeouts from football banter to update its listeners. Checkmate, mate.