Stateside

Is your PR incompetent?

Is your PR incompetent?

I feel bad for anyone trying to promote their mobile game.

It's a difficult enough task to make a good game, and harder still to make a game that manages to generate any attention.

There are so many titles available that trying to stand out from the crowd seems practically impossible.

So many get lost in the mire that is modern gaming and digital distribution.

On that basis, maybe using gaming public relations firms would help your game avoid that fate.

But gaming PR can only do so much for you - and in my experience, the sector has plenty of people so incompetent at their jobs they could actively harm efforts to get the word out about your game.

Brass tacks

But first things first - why hire a PR firm for your game? This is the question I want you to ask yourself.

Personally speaking, as a games journalist, I would much rather deal with a developer directly.

The thing with PR is that even the greatest reps are still middlemen and women. And especially in the case of mobile gaming, they're not the people who hold the keys.

I don't understand how many of the people who work in PR manage to function as people.

They can't generate promo codes, they can't send builds, but as a developer, you can do exactly that.

I've chatted with developers who didn't even understand you could generate promo codes for the prerelease versions of their games, but did so, and that got me a code I wouldn't have otherwise got because if I was dealing with a PR person, the answer would have been "We don't have codes."

Failure to connect

And there lies the big problem: a lot of gaming PR is utterly incompetent.

I don't understand how many of the people who work in PR manage to function as people, because their understanding of how to deal with the press is totally lacking.

This appears to be especially the case with the high-profile PR firms. While some individuals in these organisations are hamstrung by things above their pay grade, the point is many don't even give off the semblance of competence.

Still, I totally understand why a developer would hire PR - ideally, they have the experience, knowledge, and expertise to market a game to journalists and do so in a manner that you, as a developer, may not be aware of.

However, I think that through research and awareness, you can learn how to do it. That said, it's not simple, and doing it yourself may not be the best use of your time and resources.

The pitch

Of course, the truth about PR is that there are many people who are good at their jobs when it comes to dealing with journalists.

They know how to pitch relevant things; they know to send over assets; they give good lead times; they're people I can talk to as human beings.

They are passionate about marketing and the good they can do by helping to get the word out about cool things. Sometimes they have to promote lackluster products, but hey, you can't always control the clients you get, and we all have to pay the bills.

If you can find these people to PR your game, you're set. They'll help it do as well as it possibly can do given their power. But there are many PR reps who make the job of the press a living nightmare, and fail to treat us as anything other than vessels to shill their wares.

There are many PR reps who make the job of the press a living nightmare, and fail to treat us as anything other than vessels to shill their wares.

Many developers make these mistakes too, but PR's role is to have the experience not to make them. They should make me want to cover the games they promote.

When they make my job more difficult than it has to be, and make me actively want to not write about their games, I start to wonder how they manage to put their pants on in the morning.

The fact is, if PR can't handle the press, showing zero awareness of the ways in which we work, how are they going to handle the myriad aspects of launching and promoting your game?

And that's scary for developers, because I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to work with a PR firm that turns out to be incompetent.

Here is the game you put your blood, sweat, and tears into, and some nimcompoop botches everything. And what's going to happen to them? They'll have 10 more clients to work with, they'll be fine, but you? You're left with a failed game hurt by bad PR.

Choices, choices

So as a developer, what do you need to be aware of when you're thinking about promoting your game?

Do you have the skills and time to learn the basics and to do it yourself? If so, you're at an advantage. But you need to be brutally honest with yourself.

If you do hire PR, make sure that they know their stuff. Make sure that they at least sound like a human being, because I'm not convinced that much of gaming PR aren't poorly-programmed robots who will eventually enslave humanity.

Do your PR know what your game is about, how it should be marketed, and will they be honest with you? Make especially sure that if you're releasing a mobile game that your PR knows the nuances of releasing a mobile game and promoting it.

Ask other developers which PR representatives and firms they've worked with and how that process went.

Focusing on the specific people who will do the work is also important, as representatives jump ship all the time.

Opportunities, challenges

Of course, after all is said, PR won't be the key to getting your game a good review. Remember what I said about how sometimes even my favorite PR reps have to promote bad things?

The best pitch for a game that's not a good fit for the outlets I write for won't get covered.

Ask other developers which PR representatives and firms they've worked with and how that process went.

Your game has to be good and relevant, so if press coverage is a huge part of your marketing, then I hope your game is compatible with the press.

Mobile gaming is far more open to a variety of genres compared to what I think is a very conservative console and PC press. But it's still hard to cover, say, a sleek word game when there's already a hundred of them on the App Store. The PR mechanism can only do so much.

And no matter what, you need to do the research and be smart about who you're working with and why.

Resources

You can only do so much to help your game succeed, and good PR will help tip the odds a bit much more in your favor. Bad PR could sink your game.

So do the work and make sure your game is promoted properly, either by yourself or by the people doing it for you.

Read this article on gaming PR tips by Dean Takahashi, PocketGamer.biz's 9 tricks to ensure your mobile game gets the best PR and this guide on press kits by mobile game developer Retro Dreamer.

Make sure you or your reps are aware of these best practices, and that they know what the best things to do are for your game and its markets.

Don't let your game fail because you have incompetent PR.


Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!

Comments

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Jacek C Co-founder at Binary Banana LLC
I was just about to contact one PR agency for our new game but your article doesn't make our decision easier! :P I have time to do it myself but I am afraid no one will reply to the emails with the promo codes. From my experience it looks like good PR people know journalists and only they can contact them. Sending emails with promo codes sounds like a waste of codes as no one replies. Hopefully I am wrong :)
Christopher Ryan Senior Account Manager
PR is probably the least expensive part of your marketing paradigm. However, find the publicists that at least have an interest in the mobile gaming world. Key decisions are:

1) How big is your PR budget? Are you prepared to start this a least six months before your launch date? PR does have plenty of long lead opportunities, but those must be attained many months in advance.
2) Do you want to be at a big agency with a ton of clout, or a smaller agency where you'll get more attention?
3) Could marketing dollars be better spent on high ROI campaigns like targeted adwords or a social media influencer campaign like a custom videos and retweets on Vine?
4) If there is a game you liked when it came out and read about it, find out who did the PR.
John Ozimek Director and co-founder at Big Ideas Machine
sadly, too much of this is true. Mobile games are still a very specialist area, as promoting them takes more than just the traditional PR skill of being able to read and write ;-)

It's not helped bight fact that most devs have never used PR before, so find it hard to tell good from bad, or have any kind of yardstick for what results they might get.

Also, it's almost impossible to PR a bad mobile game, so any company that doesn't playtest a game before agreeing to PR it is setting itself up to fail, and the result will be an unhappy dev who will think twice before trying PR again.
AppFreak
Someone had to say this Carter. There are many â
Eli Hodapp
I love you.
Tomáš Nawar
Thank you Carter for sharing useful tips. Feedback from journalists are always very welcomed. It helps a lot.
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