Small but smart: How small mobile devs can master games PR, by Cosmocover's John Tyrrell
Founded in response to a need for effective and efficient international PR and marketing solutions within the emerging digital gaming space, Cosmocover works with international clients from major publishers to small independent studios.
You can read part 1 of this series - Broken words and tall stories - here.
During my days as PR director at a big video game publisher, I would regularly hear the line, "we've no marketing budget for this title, so we're going to concentrate on PR."
Or, to put it another way, "we're going to hand all responsibility for the success or failure of this title over to in-house PR because they don't cost us anything extra and we can blame them when it all goes wrong."
All too frequently, the games that received this treatment died a horrible death.
PR is many things, some of which people find distasteful (bathtubs brimming with champagne, celebrity-laden parties in Malibu villas, monkey butlers etc.) and some of which is undeniably useful (widespread media coverage and glowing reviews for example).
One thing that PR is most definitely not, however, is a magic wand.
Occasionally marketers overlook that PR isn't something separate, but is part of a broad tapestry of interwoven marketing tactics.
That tapestry includes advertising, social media, SEO, trade marketing, sales promotion, direct marketing and the multitude of other trendy and traditional disciplines that back room wonks are using to peddle products these days, all of which should work together to pull in the same direction.
My point is that PR shouldn't be considered in isolation, and neither should it been seen as something that can achieve astounding results on its own.
You can't whip it out at the last minute when you realise you have no acquisition budget to spend on advertising and then expect your game to suddenly race to the top of the charts.
The only benefit of focusing solely on PR is having somewhere else to point the finger when those astronomical sales fail to materialise.
On the other hand, PR is actually often one of the last things that developers and publishers in the digital gaming space think about when they're putting together marketing plans.
I can understand this. It's not a simple thing to do well, quantifying results can be a haphazard process (compared to, say, buying CPC advertising), and it can be expensive to hire agencies or in-house staff.
Even unpaid interns can end up being a drain on resources when you take into account the time to train them and the vast number of HBO shows and pirated music they download via your office broadband.
However, at the risk of sounding self-serving, PR is worth it, and from a certain point of view it's easier than ever.
The fragmentation and democratisation of media can make the landscape seem rather daunting, but it's vastness hides lots of very interesting and valuable niches.
Wag the tail
As Chris Anderson mentions in his essential 2006 book The Long Tail, the enormous collective importance of a multitude of small players in any given field applies equally to media outlets as it does to home-made albums on iTunes.
By media outlets, I mean much more than just the classic triumvirate of print, online and broadcast of course. As consumers have smashed through the walls of classic demographic segmentation and simultaneously found that they rather like being content publishers themselves, so the role of PR has expanded to match.
Blogs, fan sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels all of these and more fall within the remit of PR, and while you can't reach every single one, neither should you ignore them or underestimate their importance.
More than ever, PR is about influencing the influencers, wherever they are.
And what's wonderful about these media niches is that, if you find the right ones, they are often much more accessible and a great deal more interested in what you have to sell than the huge media behemoths.
I'm not knocking the value of securing a killer review on a major website like Pocket Gamer, Jeuxvideo.com or 4players.de, but if you're a small developer or publisher starting out with a new IP, you're likely to get a much better initial response from targeting those people in the long tail who are into the kind of thing you're doing.
You'll probably have a far more rewarding experience in the process, too.
Stay on target
It's generally easier to make friends with journalists, bloggers and social media influencers in the long tail than with those at the big media outlets who are harangued hourly by everyone and their uncle for coverage.
And the nature of the long tail means that it's also easier to find exactly who to target.
There are websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and YouTube channels for every persuasion of gamer, and the same web 2.0 black magic that makes it easy for them to publish their content makes it just as easy for you to find them.
These guys are just like you they love what they do and they're trying to cut through a busy market and make a go of it. And they want content.
If you find the right media outlet for your game and make friends, they'll publish pretty much everything you give them. This is where the 80/20 economics kick in with 20 percent of the media giving you 80 percent of the coverage and reaching an audience that cares.
Don't ignore the other 80 percent of course with the inexact science of PR you never know who might suddenly develop a ravenous appetite for your products but find your 20 percent and show them some love.
Give them exclusive news and assets, run a contest with them, invite them out for a beer.
Not only will you reach the right audience, but it will be a rewarding process that can lead to many long term friendships.
And who knows the self-publishing journalists and bloggers you befriend now could well be the big guns in a few years. It's an investment worth making.
You can read part 1 in John's series of columns - Broken words and tall stories - here.