26 50

CMO50 #26-50: Lewis Pullen, NRL

  • Name Lewis Pullen
  • Title Executive head of marketing, content and digital
  • Company NRL
  • Commenced role December 2013
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 60 in marketing, 7 direct reports
  • Twitter @lewispullen
  • Lewis Pullen is nearly two years into driving a digital and data marketing transformation at the NRL.

    “We will continue to build new digital assets both in-house and through partnerships to engage with fans and participants at every touch point,” he says of his plans over the next 1-2 years.

    “The data from this digital ecosystem will feed the CRM platform to deliver a 360-view of our customers.”

    From the CMO50 submission

    Business contribution and innovation

    Pullen joined the NRL in December 2013 after a dedicated executive marketing role was established for the first time. Over the last two seasons, he has led a digital, content and data-driven marketing strategy at the sporting code, following on from the work he did in this space as executive manager of marketing at Qantas.

    The key marketing objective is to broaden the appeal of the game and engagement of fans and participants, helping to grow the game. To do this, Pullen’s core strategy has been to focus on increasing reach and engagement through digital, specifically through social media. This is a rights free channel and asset.

    NRL’s social media following has increased to 8.2 million (July 2015) from 4.3m at the end of 2013, exceeding the 5.2m target set by the Commission for the end of 2017. During Origin, the NRL connects to over 9 million unique on social, more than double the TV audience of approximately 4 million viewers. This is a greater following on social than the AFL, or any other sport in Australia.

    Pullen secured investment from the Commission in early 2014 to fund the resources and technology required to deliver on this strategy.

    Modern marketing and customer engagement thinking and effectiveness

    Social media growth has been achieved by forming an always-on social media control centre based at NRL HQ, with rapid content creation driven by the data from the organisation’s listening platform. On major NRL events, the centre scales up to responds directly to fan interaction and amplifies key stakeholders.

    Growth in 2014 was achieved by an innovative Facebook/Telstra partnership, whereby key match highlights were used before, during and after the premiership rounds to drive engagement. Some of these videos exceed 4 million views.

    This was supplemented by non-match content that has been developed in-house, including an internal TV show focusing on review of the referees’ performance at the weekend and the outcomes from the judiciary on players placed on report. All of this makes for compelling entertainment, Pullen said.

    In addition, Pullen has secured funding for a major peak time free-to-air reality TV show to discover a new NRL star. This show is currently being filmed. The winner of the show will receive a NRL contract. Content from the digital applications to the show, which were over 1000, have already driven significant engagement on social media,.

    Data and/or technology driven approach

    As part of this strategy, the NRL is gaining new insight into its fans at an aggregated and individual level. By sharing email addresses from its core CRM with social media partners, it has been able to execute highly targeted social media advertising, which has reduced CPA rates by 50 per cent on selling premiership tickets.

    A Facebook app was developed for Origin 2014 and 2015 whereby fans could change their Facebook photo to a picture of their Blues or Maroons jersey (with their name on the back) if they opted in and provided some personal information.This generated more than 200,000 fan prospects in 2015 and the campaign was monetised this year through sponsorship.

    Pullen said the next step on the digital front is to monetise this proprietary digital audience NRL has built, helping fund further digital engagement.


    Pullen pointed to the NRL’s Facebook app as a good example of a simple creative idea executed brilliantly. On the other end of the scale, the NRL Rookie (Reality TV show) is a significant branded content project, enabling the organisation to tell stories beyond just the football.

    The 10 episodes on broadcast, together with a digital and second-screen platform, will allow the NRL to showcase the challenging life of a player and what they go through to make the elite level. Just as important, the NRL can promote the significant work it does in the community – stories that are difficult to tell through traditional marketing, Pullen said.

    He said he secured funding for the program based on its ability to connect with the broader family/female market. Engagement with these segments is key to the NRL game’s growth.

    “We have also made the brave decision to shift some investment from traditional TV advertising into branded content that can engage through multi channels,” Pullen said.

    “I would like to acknowledge that I have a great, passionate team who have all contributed to make these projects happen. I have been able to provide some leadership, new strategy and funding – but I could not executed these initiatives without them.”

    Share this article