How To Capture a Billion Hearts — In 2 Weeks!
Susan Polgar’s Coverage of Anand-Carlsen Is A Breathtaking Lesson In Brand Building & Gaining Authority
By Dr. Mani
Witty and professorial by turns, but always warm, polite and patient, chess GM and former World Champion Susan Polgar charmed her way into a billion Indian hearts during the recently ended FIDE World Chess Championship between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen.
How she did it should be a lesson in brand and relationship building to a host of different people.
Susan Polgar comes from a rich lineage of chess celebrities. The Polgar name has been associated with the highest echelons of chess heritage for two decades or longer. Susan is as close as it gets to being “chess royalty”.
But to listen to her, you’d never guess!
Humble to the point of being self-effacing, she only let slip her executive-level connections and contacts through the occasional anecdote or shared experience. (I’ve seen snootier players at club level who think their ability to shuffle coins around a checkerboard is good enough reason for the world to bow and kiss the hem of their clothes!)
Susan covered the recently ended FIDE chess championships live on TV (an event collectively watched by over a billion people) and was avidly followed online through a live webcast by a larger audience. Her coverage was unbiased, professional and had just the right touch of technical content mixed with populist appeal.
It resonated with viewers around the world.
As Susan puts it, Carlsen’s supporters thought she was backing Anand to win — while Anand’s fans thought her money was on the Norwegian contender. That’s good commentary technique!
The fact is that Susan is another ambassador of chess. She puts the game ahead of the individuals who play or govern it. She aims to gain popularity for it. And through her efforts, she has managed to do just that.
Chess is far from being a spectator sport . The intervals between moves is long, varied, and boring — or would be without a talented analyst to fill the gaps.
Susan Polgar filled them — in style.
– She told us stories about meeting the legendary Bobby Fischer, and about her super-talented kid sister Judit.
– She explained the finer points of chess theory and strategy, in a way even beginners could understand.
– She speckled her narrative with historical tidbits from chess’ rich heritage.
– She appreciated and complimented young and upcoming players.
– She responded to provocative questions with grace and diplomacy.
– She discussed the future of chess in a nation (India) with 500 million youngsters caught up in the frenzy that surrounded the world championship.
In the end, she won many new fans for the game of kings.
A unique and refreshing component of her commentary was how accessible and engaging she was online. When have you last seen a commentator engage audiences online via Twitter in breaks between reporting sessions (or even during them)?
Susan Polgar’s Twitter account was abuzz with activity all through the match, and even later. She shared ‘insider secrets’, personal opinions and official statements alike, with a flavor and style that kept a spirit of adventure, mystery and excitement alive.
Those who followed the account got exclusive photographs (and even a guided video tour behind the scenes into the players’ area, that sated our curiosity about what chess masterminds do when they get up and walk away from the board). Susan Polgar’s blog nicely complemented the conversation, expanding on some points and delving deeper into nuances.
Like any great achiever and leader, Susan willingly shared the spotlight with her fellow commentators, giving them the space and visibility to shine. Her co-commentator R.B.Ramesh could display his incredible talent in a way that would have been impossible with a more overwhelming or dominant team member alongside — and that’s another thing that endears Susan Polgar to her audience.
Right until the moment she boarded her American Airlines flight out of Chennai, Susan was engaging her followers on Twitter in conversation — answering questions, offering advise, sharing insights, joking and bantering with diverse fans.
Fans came from all over the country (and world) to see and enjoy chess… and ended up becoming friends of a great chess player and greater advocate of the game — Susan Polgar.
And therein lies the lesson for brand builders and marketers, anyone looking to build authority and influence in any field or area of specialization. Take a page out of Susan Polgar’s book.
A person who knows how to capture a billion hearts in just 2 weeks must be doing something right!