PlayStation’s Matt Levitan

Matt Levitan knows his target inside out. He is his target. He lives and breathes videogames, and that serves him well as the marketing and PR manager at Toronto-based Sony Computer Entertainment Canada (SCEC).

Matt Levitan knows his target inside out. He is his target. He lives and breathes videogames, and that serves him well as the marketing and PR manager at Toronto-based Sony Computer Entertainment Canada (SCEC).

From a quarterly magazine highlighting gaming news to a discussion group on the popular social networking site Facebook, Levitan excels at anticipating gamers’ needs. His most recent project is the launch of Playstation.ca, which will be rich with content like exclusive concert footage.

‘It’s something we’ve been fighting the U.S. office on for quite some time. We finally got the green light,’ says Levitan of the Canadian-specific site. He eventually won the necessary approvals by tirelessly lobbying the U.S. marketing department, citing unique market factors like different price points, a large French-speaking population and a separate retail environment. And, some changeover in the U.S. marketing department didn’t hurt, either. ‘What .ca will be about is content. I’m not going to sell product…. Our retail partners already do a good job of selling our product online,’ he says.

PlayStation.ca soft-launched in March, accessible to gamers via pre-registration. The official launch is April 1, but Levitan doesn’t expect it to hit its content-heavy stride until closer to the summer. He says PlayStation

may sponsor a summer concert tour and film it, likely with up-and-coming bands. ‘We want it to be really grassroots,’ he explains. He also plans to include footage from some higher-profile PlayStation concerts, too. ‘We like to throw our own proprietary shows. We’ll probably shoot in late spring,’ he says. Past PlayStation concerts include Wyclef at the PS3 launch, Metric at Toronto’s Masonic Temple last fall and the Black Eyed Peas at a private show in Whistler in 2003.

Levitan also sees room to highlight copromotions on the site, like PlayStation’s partnership with six NHL teams, or giveaways with Hershey, Coke and Energizer. In the meantime, he’ll be promoting his own events. ‘To launch the site, we’ll have a heavy Campus Cup message,’ he says, referring to PlayStation’s annual gaming competition for students, which has a grand prize of free tuition. (Last year’s Cup attracted 2,400 participants, this year’s is expected to double). He also plans to upload footage from the ‘Gamer’s Voice’ promotion PlayStation does with Future Shop, which invites gamers to test out new games and report their reviews on-camera in a booth set up in-store.

Giving his retailers a little extra is a big focus for Levitan. Four years ago (while still VP at Toronto-based Segal Communications), he launched PlayStation Quarterly, a magazine featuring previews of upcoming game titles available in-store at big retail partners like Future Shop, Wal-Mart and Blockbuster.

Levitan’s passion for videogames is what drew him to Segal in 1997, upon returning to Toronto after a stint as a copywriter at New York ad agency Axis. He had joined Axis after graduating from Boston’s Emerson College with a master of arts, marketing degree. Segal was still in its infancy at the time. But Levitan knew Segal had the PlayStation account,

and he saw an opportunity to appease both his love of advertising and gaming. The only problem was that Segal wasn’t looking for any more staff. Agency president Rob Segal recalls his first encounters with Levitan. ‘He did harass me a little bit. He was persistent – he had that hunger,’ he says, adding that Levitan offered to take on projects in exchange for free videogames until Segal had room in his budget to hire him. Segal took him up on that offer, and then hired him officially about three months later as a copywriter before shuffling him to the account side.

Levitan was put on the PlayStation account in 1998, and essentially functioned as the brand’s marketing department (it didn’t have one in Canada at the time). He recalls being a bit of a one-man show. ‘I was the event team. I was the sole person,’ he says. ‘Back in the day, it wasn’t the party it is now – it was just me and a rider van. It was terrible!’

SCEC decided it was time to have an internal marketing department in 2006, and brought Levitan over from Segal. ‘Having worked with Matt and his team at Segal for the past eight years, we knew who we wanted,’ says Ian Jackson, SCEC’s GM. ‘Matt has a strong understanding of what gamers are looking for…. He brings a unique passion to the team.’

Levitan’s first big task on the client side – aside from learning to become ‘more of a suit’ after years on the agency side – was orchestrating the launch of new console PlayStation 3. ‘I knew that I wanted to create something Canadian-specific,’ says Levitan. This push for a separate program entailed a bit of wrangling with his U.S. counterparts, who expected him to simply pick up their creative. ‘It was a bit of a struggle,’ he recalls.

He was able to diplomatically convince the U.S. team that his campaign would be different from their ‘Play Beyond’ efforts that focused on the PS3′s capabilities. The result was ’3.’ This integrated hype campaign, developed with Segal, focused on the pent-up gamer desire for PS3, leading up to the November debut. ‘We know what it’s like to be a gamer looking forward to that day,’ he says.

The launch was extremely successful. All units sold out within minutes of hitting the shelves. ‘Matt is a risk-taker,’ says Segal. ‘But he takes pre-calculated risks. Before he leaps, he makes sure he’s done as much as he can. He’ll challenge you – he’ll give you his opinion whether you want it or not.’

Levitan has also been focusing on reinforcing the PlayStation Portable (PSP) as more than just a gaming device. Last summer, he deployed a bus equipped with 30 PSP units to high-traffic pedestrian areas to showcase the device’s multi-media capabilities – from playing DVDs and MP3s to storing photos and surfing the internet. ‘We want to continue to educate people about the PSP,’ he says. Sales are still strong. Sony has now sold over 400,000 PSPs in Canada.

Levitan recently took another risk, when he was one of the first Canadian marketers to test a marketing effort on Facebook.com late last year. He saw the network as a great opportunity to have a non-obtrusive sponsored group that gamers could opt into. ‘We had a couple of thousand people [join the group] within a few weeks of launching,’ says Levitan. ‘The discussion boards are pretty busy…. It’s my chance to speak with gamers.’

Levitan will no doubt be chatting with gamers as much as possible in the coming months to fine-tune the content lineup for PlayStation.ca. ‘We want to have some amazing content on there,’ he says. ‘We’re evolving it into a fun site for the summer.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Reality show you’d most like to be on

The Real World. But my wife would never let me!

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase

I had a few Budweisers on Superbowl night. Again, Bud Light had the best [Superbowl] spots.

First job

Delivering pizzas in California. I was fired the day I started.

Most useful business book

Straight from the Gut, by Jack Welch. This guy knows how to take calculated risks and surround himself with the brightest talent.

Favourite videogame

Final Fantasy VII. This was the first time I realized a game could evoke emotion.