Having celebrated his fifth bingo birthday earlier this year, Mark Fletcher, Buzz Bingo’s Head of Brand Communications, has a natural energy and enthusiasm that he brings everywhere – including work – and we’re glad to say it’s catching.
A native of Yorkshire, born in 1984 in Halifax, he spent his school years down south in Oxfordshire, before heading back up north after university. He has since settled in the south, with his wife and children, aged 6 and 4, and Max the cat. Please bear in mind this is a Yorkshireman, so the ‘South’ means the hinterland between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Perfect for getting to Buzz HQ and around the country to Buzz Clubs.
Mark’s path to bingo was not a direct one, having tried a variety of roles after university. The first of those was stacking cheese and ready meals in Sainsbury’s, followed by a variety of instantly forgettable temping jobs, with just one ‘stand-out’ role. “Of all those temp jobs there was one that is the most memorable and by far the worst: lugging around vats of oil for a chain of well-known chicken shops in a warehouse. Put me off fast food for a while, but an experience nonetheless” Mark commented.
After working in ecommerce, fashion, ad agencies and a university, when the chance came to join the world of bingo and be part of the transition from Gala to Buzz, Mark jumped at it. “To be part of that change and be able to work on a brand new brand, in clubs and then the launch online, revitalising the game, was a great opportunity.
“It has been a rollercoaster ride so far and I love it. From creating Buzz’s first TV ads to navigating the uncertainties of the pandemic, to launching our charity partnership with the Stroke Association. It’s been a real privilege recently to go out across the UK and meet the people who make bingo the game it is.”
Covid brought a seismic change, in literally every sector, and like every sector bingo had to adjust and accept changing consumer behaviour. Mark said, “Following Covid I’ve noticed a shift towards trying to find the bingo fans of the future through product innovation and advertising, rather than leaving word of mouth to deliver this.”
As the White Paper for the new act was looming compliance and regulation were very much on Mark’s radar, “There’s no escaping the need for gambling reform to catch up with technology and changing consumer behaviour.” Mark said, “However, nuance is needed so that well-meaning legislation doesn’t inadvertently harm bingo clubs and their communities. It’s a brilliant and fun social occasion for the vast majority of customers, with the chance to win great prizes a bonus.”
As someone with ecommerce experience who joined bingo at the birth of Buzz, where omni-channel was always an objective, we asked Mark where he felt the future of bingo lies – online or in club?
“It has to be both. With innovations like Live Bingo we can put community into a digital product. But nothing beats playing physically in a club and meeting your pals or family for a drink and a chicken basket. We took our latest team member to Buzz Bingo Leicester recently and had a fab time as a team and showing her the ropes.
“When online was in its infancy there was a clear divide between land and online, with many club operators reluctant to go online too, as they felt it might cannibalise their club business. Today loads of bingo players play in club and online, so the challenges of becoming an omni-channel brand are actually the same challenges that we face in growing the retail business – how do you take players on a journey of product innovation, how do you cater for traditional and modern players in venues designed before the contactless-age?
“At the end of the day people want ‘me’ time, or together time, and they like the anticipation and excitement of bingo. Designing products that do that in retail and online environments is more than possible, the challenges are evolving the game whilst juggling a legacy infrastructure and a broad variety of customer expectations.
“Of course, overlaid on this are compliance requirements, which are there to protect people. If they create a challenge for us achieving our marketing ambitions then we have to be creative and think outside the box to make memorable marketing that’s also responsible. One thing Buzz is remarkable at is problem solving and doing so quickly, and I’m lucky to have a very progressive and supportive compliance team who always put audiences first.”
Obsessed with football and a long suffering Leeds United fan, the challenges and hard work in launching Buzz and keeping the brand front of mind in the leisure space, has certainly not exhausted Mark’s energies.
“I love planning trips abroad to my favourite European stadiums, which also allows me to do other hobbies – reading, maps, running, food and beer! My highlight is Union Berlin who play at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (which translates as Stadium at the Old Forester’s House – it’s in a forest) and next up is a long awaited trip to the San Siro in Milan.”
While work is both demanding and rewarding, Mark puts equal energy into life away from bingo, not just as a family man, organising his children’s pre-holiday haircuts (which is where we managed to catch him), but also into community and charity work.
“There are two community groups I’m really proud of. I’m a volunteer on the board of Holbeck Viaduct Project, a nonprofit organisation aiming to repurpose an old Victorian rail viaduct as a public park and greenway in the sky. This allows me to combine my interests in architecture, urban planning and gardening with my experience in communications. Also in 2022 I joined about 100 Leeds fans walking from the late Gary Speed’s hometown Aston in Wales, to Elland Road, to raise money for Samaritans and Andy’s Man Club, a suicide prevention charity doing fantastic work to get men talking to each other. This year we’re tackling the 92 miles from Goodison Park, Everton in Liverpool to Leeds, via Bolton, Burnley and Halifax to raise more money for these essential charities. Anyone wanting to support us can find more information at thesquareball.net/garyspeed
We wondered if there was any more time and energy for anything else? “Carpet” came the reply, “Bingo carpets. They are incredible! I wouldn’t say I am obsessed, but it is becoming a ‘thing’. I have built up quite a gallery of amazingly magical carpets from around the country. I know people generally tell you to look up, but in bingo it’s a case of look-in and eyes down – that’s magic, the numbers and the carpets! I am sure there is a good book in there somewhere.”
Time for bingo? “Yes, I love getting to clubs to play. My next bingo date is at an Abba Wonderland event. My Abba experience is limited to a holiday in Skopelos where they filmed Mamma Mia so I’m not sure what to expect!”
Having taken a chance on bingo and jumped in with both feet, five years on was it a good choice? “100%. Getting to work with brilliant, hilarious, amazing people every day, both team members and customers, continues to be very rewarding. I am yet to tire of the moment when new players realise the numbers on their tickets are ordered in columns – when that penny drops it always makes me smile and you know someone’s really getting into their dabbing.”