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[Gamesbriefers] Should you outsource PR?

By on February 26, 2014
FlickrCC by Floeschie
FlickrCC by Floeschie
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Question:

When an indie game is successful, the press attention can be completely overwhelming. Dong Nguyen says that it ruined his simple life. Some indies outsource their PR so that they can focus on development, but others are hesitant to do so. How does a PR firm affect your ability to operate independently and autonomously? Is this something that everybody should consider doing? At what point is it a good idea?

Answers:

Ella-RomanosElla Romanos CEO of Remode Studios

I think it really depends on who the PR firm/person is and also how PR savvy the developer is, but I think it is definitely something that everybody should at least consider. Having worked with good and bad PR companies, I can’t advocate enough the value of a good PR company.  On the other hand, a bad one does a lot more harm that good.

paul taylorPaul Taylor Co-founder, Mode 7 Games

Absolutely. I’ve done PR 100% myself on a title (Frozen Synapse) and used an agency for, I’d say, about 90% of the work (Frozen Endzone). I’d say the agency delivered a result that was equivalent to something I could have achieved myself at quite a low cost and saved me a massive, massive amount of time; in this particular instance it was a good move. We used Beefjack, who are a very small UK agency run by an ex-journo and indie game dev – they really understand their area of press and also were very attentive to our message. So, I think the two situations to use an agency are: – Tactical usage on particular PR points to save you time – If you don’t have the skills to do it yourself I directly recommended to Dong that he used an agency – someone who is saying that dealing with PR is negatively affecting their mental state (as he did), and who can afford it, absolutely needs someone to be helping them out so they can concentrate on what they do best.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode Studios

I think it’s pretty clear to see from other entertainment industries, particularly ones where an audience is fanatical about feeling ‘close’ to the creators (such as music), that when this stuff is valuable, it can be very valuable. What external PR offers is… · Saving time: You don’t realise how time consuming it is to write well until you have to do it. · External perspective: As a creator, you can often be “too close”. This is only natural, but not always helpful. · Tricks of the trade: As with any profession there are optimum ‘ways’ of handling certain things. A good PR firm will know these. In Dong’s case I think it would have been highly beneficial, but the whole Flappy Bird thing came out of nowhere so fast you can hardly blame him for feeling overwhelmed! Generally I think a lot of indies see a blurred line between PR and Marketing and the interplay between the two, so it’s a case of assessing what you are hoping to achieve then choosing the tactics that suit you.

harry holmwoodHarry Holmwood CEO of Marvelous AQL Europe

I agree, PR companies can be extremely valuable. They can’t perform miracles, and there’s the danger of expecting them to turn ‘yet another game’ into an interesting story, but, if you’ve got a newsworthy product or service, a good PR agency can get you attention you’d struggle to get on your own. However, in terms of being able to reach out to media, they can be very useful. Ideally, maintaining personal relationships with journalists, bloggers and, most importantly, players themselves would be done alongside working with a PR agency.

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Developer relations at Ouya

Agree with all that, but with a caveat: The danger for any studio operating in modern times is hiding or getting cloaked by PR. The old managed way of communicating (through official channels etc) doesn’t work as well in a world where everyone has their own news organ, especially for unknowns trying to break in. Fans are now used to talking directly with an online presence (such as through Twitter) and feeling as though they’re part of a movement. They’re used to authenticity, to AMAs and tweet threads and a dev having a forum and being responsive in it. So you have to be personal and engaged. While PR remains very valuable for official comms, you just can’t expect that work to establish your voice on its own. And it’s unfair to expect PR to solve that problem for you. That’s pretty tough for an industry of introverts that kind of don’t like talking to people, but it is what it is. You have to tell your own marketing story in your own words. A lot.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode Studios

Yes I actually think that is a very good point Tadhg & knowing where to distinguish between a personal connection to your fans and a more formalised matter communication probably harder than it sounds.

dan_eferganDan Efergan Creative Director, Digital at Aardman Animations

We’re in a slightly unusual place, being able to share a PR person across the rest of the companies shenanigans. But when it comes to our game releases we wouldn’t have nearly enough time to do the things they get done for us, as other have said, maintaining relationships with journalists, bloggers and players etc. But… and I think this is really important. The relationship any company/indie has with their players these days is very personal. People can sniff out bullshit a mile away, so if you don’t talk honestly, with true passion, they’ll lose interest. And to get that you need people close to the heart of your game doing the talking. So the best external PR peeps facilitate this but don’t necessarily do this.

Ella-RomanosElla Romanos CEO of Remode Studios

Totally agree – that facilitation of PR is what makes PR people good.  They should work with you to define a strategy and the tactics for that, then facilitate the implementation.  Whether they are public facing or not should be something they discuss with you, and should depend on the story you are trying to tell.

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

I think we have to reconsider what PR means nowadays; especially in games. We aren’t just talking press releases and dinners with key journalists (although I do kinda miss some of that). Instead we should be thinking of this as the voice of our brand. In the social media age that voice has to feel authentic, distinctive and consistent and build an audience of advocate followers. A one man band who lives and breaths their own brand identity they can go a hell of a long way themselves. But there are too many channels and outlets to really scale up the level of interest unless you are willing (and lucky enough) to become part of the zeitgeist itself. When you can’t be everywhere at once, that’s when you need help from an external agency. People who haven’t been trained in PR (and yes you can learn the skills) often fall down because they mistake their own personality for the brand. They may not realise that they have something to say others want to hear or they can (all too often) take things personally when their star wanes; and let’s face it where you start getting stupid internet death threats who can blame you. That’s where the external voice can help and agencies can help you build up the voice of your company or service as distinct from your own. I’ve spent most of my career doing PR of some kind; and often working with external games PR teams, sometime with internal PR groups where I was accountable to a larger organisation. Making this work requires you to proactively engage with them; you can’t expect anyone else to understand or communicate the values of your brand better than you. However, if you can get them to buy into your voice and vision and agree a communication plan for the long haul this can be really valuable. Disasters will happen. Misquotes will happen. That’s where you need to be able to adapt and listen to good advice. However, if don’t let these things dampen your vision you might just find that the spin doctors were onto something. You can often turn disaster into triumph.

paul taylorPaul Taylor Co-founder, Mode 7 Games

I think there’s a lot of truth to this. One thing I’d add is that, at the moment, conventional wisdom doesn’t always stand up. Look at someone like Phil Fish who became, basically, the world’s best-known indie developer at one time just simply by virtue of being totally unfiltered. Sure, that’s not the best example in terms of outcome, but actually I think people have to be really careful with guiding the message in PR terms, lest they lose some of the excitement and danger that the press love…

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

That is a good point and I’m kicking myself for not saying it… Just because you have a charismatic voice and you become part of the zeitgeist doesn’t give you any universal knowledge or insight… Just as much an opportunity to piss people off. And you will. It’s the internet and there be trolls. Just don’t feed them and stay frosty ;0)

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Developer relations at Ouya

Oh no. Feed the rolls. Fill them up!

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode Studios

As I alluded to earlier, I think you can clearly see from the music industry that whipping up controversy is a proven way to get more eyeballs. The “no publicity is bad publicity mantra”. And I don’t necessarily mean consciously strategising to do so, I mean just accepting that you are never going to please everyone and therefore the fallout of not doing so is worth the extra attention anyway. If you take this stance, then fine. I for one find it a lot more interesting as a fan or reader. However having no boundaries can backfire. How far is too far? When does a line get crossed? Can you accept it if something is taken out of context by the press? -these are the questions to ask. Just last week GI.biz ran a headline called “We’re F**king Rockstars”. When I read the interview it was clearly something said as tongue-in-cheek at the end, but when you see a headline that is not the first association!

Andrew SmithAndrew Smith Director of Spilt Milk Studios

In response to nobody in particular, here is an example of effective PR: “Fuck PR. I hate anyone involved in it because, frankly, they’re leeching off of other peoples’ hard work. I make the game, I should be the one to talk about it. In fact, I don’t even like the fact that I have to talk about it. Games should be able to succeed on their own merits. The whole games industry would be a better place if everyone in PR was just fired. End of.” Of course this is not a position I agree with, but sometimes I wish I had the balls to be overly aggressive and purposefully confrontational. It gets easy headlines.

jaspurewalJas Purewal Lawyer at Osborne Clarke

“No publicity is bad PR” indeed – but you want to make sure you’re on the right side of the table. Barbara Streisand got plenty of PR when she very aggressively sued the photographer who’d accidentally taken photos of her luxury home, but it wasn’t her who benefitted from the PR (I’m talking about the Streisand Effect ofc). More seriously, taking ‘non-traditional’ approaches to PR is great – just know what you’re doing first. Which is perhaps where really good modern PR agencies can earn their crust – advising developers how to use unconventional methods to get ahead, but not necessarily doing it for them.

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