A question I’m often asked by developers is, “Do I really need PR?” Another one I get a lot is, “Should I hire a PR person or firm, or should I just do it myself?” Here’s my thinking on these questions:
Do you have the budget to hire an internal employee to do PR? If the answer is yes, then the next question is: “Do you have enough work for this person to handle for an indefinite amount of time?” Your game will likely have updates, and potentially sequels; ideally, you want to go about your PR in such a way that this person has some long-term relationship with your company. So if the answer to the above question is yes, then hire a PR person!
Okay, but what happens when you have something of a budget, but not enough work to warrant a full-time position within your company? In that case, I’d recommend hiring a firm or a consultant. And just as you would when interviewing for positions at your company, apply the same rigor to hiring a firm or consultant. I’d typically get great references for somewhere between four and six consultants or firms, and ask them for RFPs (requests for proposal). When requesting these, make sure you clearly state why you want the PR, what the project’s about, your timelines, and expectations. Then weed out the RFPs based on which ones are best suited to your needs, style, and budget. I usually pick three or four to bring in for an interview — or, even better, I visit them at their offices. I find that my favorite clients are the ones with whom I discuss expectations in details — that way there’s no misunderstanding in terms of the work moving forward. Also, if there’s some sort of weird expectation, we can hash it out before the contracts are signed.
Finally, what if you don’t have any money for an extra set of help? Can you do it yourself? The answer is yes, but it’s definitely a time-consuming job. A good PR person/firm/consultant is someone that not only can come up with a coherent strategy for how to pitch your product around, but also has established contacts in the press, which means that, for the most part, they can get timely responses to press releases and inquiries. If you don’t have established contacts, you can go to website’s staff pages to find emails, Twitter handles and the like, but I’d caution you that when contacting journalists, make sure that you’re polite and have concise information you’re pitching to them that’s relevant to what they normally write about. Do not harass them with a barrage of “did you get my email?” messages, or you will be DOA. These guys get a lot of requests, so tread carefully.
Sometimes PR is a long game, which is why it’s good to talk about expectations. Unless you have the next unquestionably revolutionary tech/game/product, have a big company funding you, a celebrity endorsement, or things of this nature, do not expect journalists to immediately write about you. Sometimes it just takes a friendly introduction and some time to get your relationship established, and build trust before the coverage starts rolling in.
When I first started working at Unity, most tech/gaming journalist weren’t familiar with who we were or what we did, and didn’t cover our press releases or pitches. It was a slow rollout of visiting them, demo’ing our engine, putting them in touch with established developers that were using Unity, and so forth, in order to get them to even start covering Unity.
When I was working at my old firm, Plan of Attack (a great PR firm if you need any help, BTW — check out planofattack.biz), a lot of companies that wanted to hire me would say, “We want you to do what you did for Unity.” I would have to explain that the marketing/PR plan that I built and executed for them took three years to execute with a team of people, and ultimately “long-tailed” its way to success.
Some (but not all) PR people will also have relationships with influencers — bloggers, Twitchers, YouTubers and so on — and that’s pretty invaluable. Sometimes, if a developer has a game and not a huge budget for PR or marketing, I try to utilize my influencer connections first. There are many ways that you can execute a decent PR plan, and not just the standard “in the box” solution of a press release and a couple of editorial pitches. It’s good to seek out publicists who are up-to-date with how to reach your specific audience, whether it’s through social media, influencers, or journalists. Years ago, a two-year campaign would be normal; these days, PR cycles are much, much shorter.
In another blog I’ll talk about co-marketing, but I wanted to note here that if you don’t have the budget or time to do PR, but you’re partnering with a company like Sony, Microsoft, or Nvidia on your product, it’s worth reaching out to their PR people to see if you can potentially get help, or if there’s an event or release you’re working on with your partner. It won’t always work out, but if the timing or the fit is right for them, it very well might.
Lastly, shoot for the stars — but be realistic, making sure that you plan your pitches during appropriate times. If you have a game, ask yourself if it can compete with the noise of the holiday season. If not, maybe you can adjust your announcements to happen during a quieter news cycle. Same thing goes for events like E3 and GDC.