Packer builds a brand

There must be something wrong with my newspaper this morning – I can’t find the story about James Packer.

A few years ago, you could have gone months without finding a yarn about Packer. But in the last few weeks, Packer’s distinctive voice and visage have shone almost daily from the pages of The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and even News Limited’s tabloids, particularly the Herald Sun.

Packer’s multiple appearances in the last week were, in the main, very much warranted. In the space of a few days Packer won approval for a major redevelopment of his casino in Perth (formerly known as Burswood, now to be called Crown Perth), received approval to build a casino in Sydney’s giant Barangaroo project and launched a $500 million capital raising to help pay for it all.

Packer, who a few years ago shunned most media contact, has provided a running commentary on it all, liberally providing quotes and posing for photos. In a slightly bizarre story in the weekend’s News Limited tabloids, Packer even discussed how his lap-band surgery had helped him shed multiple kilos and generally helped him become healthier and happier.

I’ve written a few times about how Packer has the family swagger back and to me his more relaxed and confident attitude was underlined by a brilliant photo on the front page of the AFR last week. A grinning Packer leans back, feet up, mobile phone in hand. Everyone is calling me, and everyone is taking my calls, he seems to be saying.

Packer and his team of advisers have worked tirelessly in the media and in the corridors of power to make things happen. From Packer’s brutal attack on Echo Entertainment’s John Storey (which eventually cost the casino chairman his job) to his campaigning for the Barangaroo approval, it’s frankly been a master class in PR and lobbying.

But it’s not just PR – Packer’s Crown Limited has also pumped big dollars into a large, well-orchestrated advertising campaign, including print and TV advertising.

The ads talk about Crown’s leadership as an employer, tourism magnet and all-round great company. But more importantly, they speak of Crown as more than a casino in Melbourne. The ad campaign positions Crown as a network of casinos stretching from Perth to Melbourne to Macau, with Sydney and potentially other spots still to come.

It all comes back to what I think was the most important quote given by Packer during his press commentary: “I want to build a global luxury brand.”

It’s very smart. Owning a handful of individual casinos around the world is great, but owning a network of branded casinos around the world will make Packer’s Crown that much more valuable.

A global brand should allow Packer to create some level of efficiencies across the group (although cultural differences would certainly limit a cookie-cutter approach across the world) and allow him to attract high rollers by presenting them a similar luxury offering across Asia. VIPs could gamble in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Macau and expect a “Crown” experience (whatever that looks like) at each venue.

But the real value of Packer’s “brand” would probably be fully realised when/if Packer ever came to sell the business. I’m sure Packer is betting that the more he can build the Crown brand, the bigger the premium he can expect to receive from a potential buyer looking to get into or expand its casino operations.

In the world of luxury goods, brands matter. The Packer family might have a reputation as people who collect assets, but James Packer is doing something very different.

And it could just be his smartest money-making strategy yet.


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