Per Hagen founded the player agency Poker Icons (http://www.pokericons.com/) in 2006, and just recently, Vegas Group merged with the company.
Per is a Norwegian (34) who lives in the suburbs outside of Oslo. He is married and has a daughter (8). Per has been working as an executive sales director for many years and has a Bachelors degree in Science Business – Communications. Per has always been fascinated by new and exciting industries – and although the (online) gambling industry was hardly new in 2006, he still decided that it was somewhat untouched when it came to agencies; and that made Per start up Poker Icons.
Richard Kimsey: Why did you decide to found a poker agency and how was the idea formulated?
Per Hagen: The idea of founding Poker Icons came about after discovering that the industry was still very much booming in 2006, and a lot of sites were sponsoring players, but with no real plan, capacity or focus on how to optimize the relationship between them and the player. I could also see that the players really needed someone to help them managing their careers in many ways. So I started up with a few players focusing on Europe and online talents, and now we are 40+ from all over the world. Most of them are really big winners who are young and dominating both online and live poker. We also have a selection of US players on our list, and by the end of 2009 we expect to have about 100 players in total with offices all over the world.
Richard Kimsey: What is a typical day for you, if there is one?
Per Hagen: Since we work over all the time zones in the world it’s pretty much a 24/7 job. I wake up to approx 30 waiting e-mails and IM’s, read through the latest poker/industry news and articles. Check in with some of the players and partners, have a brief meeting with the others in the company – before starting the nitty-gritty. No 2 days are identical, but we have a clear strategy we follow, so it’s important for us to stay on track. There are always great new opportunities, but I think it’s important to look for synergetic effects in everything you do, have a clear idea on where you want to go, and keep focus on how you can get there.
Richard Kimsey: Why do you feel there is a need for representation of poker players and when did this become relevant? Was this needed before the big boom when the World Series of Poker began becoming popular on ESPN?
Per Hagen: The boom obviously started when WSOP started to get TV attention and it just continues to grow. This means that the players are getting more and more exposure, not only in poker, but also from general media. In addition the sponsors have now become much more focused on actually using the players they sponsor in campaigns and such. This means that there is now much more pressure on the players, and there is a need for poker agencies like ours. We help both the sponsors and players so their partnership runs smoothly. We also handle most of the media for the players.
Richard Kimsey: How does the exposure of the sport on ESPN and other networks benefit your company?
Per Hagen: Every time the sport is aired in a positive way and environment, this benefits the industry. It’s good to see that mainstream media is also starting to give it some attention.
Richard Kimsey: As far as contract negotiations, what do you try to get for your clients and how do you angle the negotiations for a poker player?
Per Hagen: For us it’s important to find the right sponsor for our players, and vice versa. No players are alike, so it’s really important to map out the players wishes and try to negotiate a deal with the sponsors so they both know in advance what they will be getting (besides the financial part) from each other, and establish some routines to make sure they both follow up on it.
Richard Kimsey: What kind of marketing opportunities do you find for your clients and what kind of demand is there for them?
Per Hagen: Poker Icons mainly work with high profiled players that get a lot of media attention and exposure. They write blogs, articles, books, do TV shows and figure on the biggest poker media’s front covers.
Richard Kimsey: What other services does your agency perform for its clients and how do you feel those services give the clients an advantage?
Per Hagen: Poker Icons provides a full poker player agency service, we have a separate marketing team that does a lot of marketing jobs for our partners, we recruit staff for poker jobs, do poker productions and arrange poker events also.
Richard Kimsey: How do you recruit your clients and what kind of competition is there with other poker agencies?
Per Hagen: First of all the players have to be really good poker players, but it’s also very important that the players are marketable, and if he/she hails from an area of the world which is targeted by the biggest sponsors – that’s a big bonus. As far as competition goes, I actually think competition is good. Even though we are the biggest agency in Europe and a close number 2 in the world – we do our own thing and don’t really compete so to say with the others. We are blessed with a long list of satisfied poker players, and they are really good ambassadors for us. I think that’s the best marketing we could do.
Richard Kimsey: Do you feel that poker agencies are a growing industry?
Per Hagen: It’s a very niche industry, so I don’t think anyone could just start up. It takes time to build up a relationship with a big player base and you have to prove your worth to the sponsors before you are accepted in. I think it would be very hard for someone else to start up now. The market is pretty much taken by us and the other US focused agency.
Richard Kimsey: What would you say to someone trying to break into the industry?
Per Hagen: Good Luck – and don’t forget that there is something called moral and ethics
Richard Kimsey: Do you offer any internship opportunities?
Per Hagen: Yes