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A cornerstone of effective communication is that who you relay your message to is as important as what your message is. For example, you can convey the same basic information in many different ways, and you should consider doing that when communicating with a variety of audiences. If you don’t, your message won’t be received as effectively and consistently as you’d hoped.

In this second installment of PR Facepalm, we’ll look at the importance of identifying your audiences and customizing your message to tailor to them.

It’s Not What you Say, It’s How you Say It

In PR one thing we do often is act as a bridge between parties, connecting them and initiating discourse for an exchange of ideas. Most often that is between a party we represent and another party, usually a media outlet or reporter. And frequently, this is done via an interview; in-person, via phone, through e-mail, etc. Interviews are a golden opportunity to prepare your spokesperson to drive home your message in a forum that can be uber-effective; if you are willing to put in the effort.

Working with video games, one of the most frustrating things is seeing a great interview opportunity squandered because it wasn’t handled correctly. For example, the kiss of death for any interview is to not consider the tastes and personalities of the people who will be reading said interview when it runs. If you’re doing an interview for a business publication, then it’s perfectly fine to use marketing speak and boast sales numbers, because that’s what that audience is interested in hearing; it will resonate with them. But if you’re doing an interview for an outlet that is read by males age 18-35, with no interest in investing or portfolios, and you hit them with the A-List material from last quarter’s shareholder PowerPoint presentation, then you’ve got a problem.

The reason is because that audience doesn’t care about those sales numbers, and they can see right through that marketing speak. And in the end if all you’re offering is sales stats and rehashed lines from your most recent press release, then you’re not providing any real substance to the discussion and your future communications with this audience will likely fall on deaf ears. There’s a reason why people fast forward through commercials on their DVRs, or why they mute their speakers when an ad comes on before some Internet video they want to watch – these things are boring, and they get in the way of what the audience came for in the first place.

In spite of these obvious facts, the trend continues. You’ll see an interview with a gaming exec, featured in a gaming outlet, that looks like it should have run in the Wall Street Journal. Or you’ll see a thinly veiled attempt at a “blog” and “corporate transparency” that looks like it was generated by an automated press release writing program. And what results from that? The last thing you want to hear when you reach out to an audience – indifference. Readers who want five minutes of their lives back after reading that boring interview, reporters who won’t be so quick to respond to your email next time you pitch an interview their way, and worst of all, no momentum as a result of all the time you put into arranging this great opportunity for your team.

So the next time you want to pitch an interview for your executive, or someone involved in the creation of your game, take the time to do the legwork! Research the outlet you want to pitch to, find out how they’ve been covering games that are similar to yours, learn how their readers have responded to this coverage (comments make this a snap) and identify your opportunity. Pick out what your game could benefit from in terms of coverage with this outlet, then use your knowledge of what the readers want and what your message can provide to make that connection. Then, tailor your messaging and spokesperson to knock it out the park. Make the most out of your chances; it will result in fewer facepalms when all is said and done!

Facepalm. That’s always my initial reaction when I see the way that many companies decide to take a shotgun approach to their messaging and outreach. As a PR professional, I know how difficult and time consuming it can be to come up with effective messaging. But as anyone should realize; all people are different, and people change. What works for person A won’t always work for person B, and what was resonating with your audience six months ago might not get results today. But for some reason, many companies tend to go with the plan of taking the idea that seems to be best to them and throwing it everywhere they can, hoping it works.

In this current economy, everyone is scaling back and working with fewer resources. That’s why now, more than ever, well planned, efficient tactics are necessary. The old adage goes, “A stitch in time saves nine”, meaning that if you allow yourself to be proactive and anticipate major problems before they get out of hand, you can save yourself a lot of “stitching” later down the road. This is the first installment in a series of posts that will touch up on things I’ve noticed in PR; things that could definitely be improved.

Identify your “Big Game” Targets and Why you Must Have Them

During my career in PR I’ve been fortunate enough to score some truly massive coverage for my teams. Ironically, most of the wins the higher-ups consider to be epic are the ones that make the least sense to me.  Here’s an example: In one particular campaign for a major game I was representing, my team scored two big hits. One was for an entertainment trade publication, circulation was around 300K. The other was for an online gaming outlet with a circulation equivalent to around 5M. The trade pub hit took A LOT of work; lots of back-and-forth communication, lots of late nights making sure that we had everything the editor needed to make the story happen and that we didn’t fall off his radar. The gaming outlet piece ran much more smoothly. Obviously they knew more about the game we were working on so we could cut straight to the chase, adding more substance to the piece and covering the items our research showed that readers wanted to know more about while highlighting what made our game stand apart from the competition.

At the end of the day, I saw two very different reactions to the coverage that didn’t make sense to me. Upper management fawned over the trade publication hit, which I didn’t get. First off, look at the circulation numbers: 300,000 vs. 5,000,000. Right there we’re looking at one story that reached roughly 16 times more  people than the other. Then, let’s consider the quality of impressions we received. Out of the 300,000 people who read the trade publication, how many of them actually play games, let alone play them enough to make a purchase? On the other hand, if you’re visiting an online game site then obviously you’re a gamer, and more inclined to make a purchase after reading a strong article on a game.

I get the prestige that comes with a traditional, institution of a publication. When you land a story in them, they are few and far between, and it definitely impresses your execs. But correct me if I’m wrong, don’t sales ultimately impress execs more? And don’t sales usually lead to those harder-to-nail stories in the prestigious publications?  Sure, everybody wants these placements but you’ve got to ask yourself, “why do I want them so badly?”. What does it get you in the long run? How does it map back to your overall PR plan and objectives? Is the ROI on running down a dream hit like that worth the resources you dump into making it happen?

Obviously I’m not suggesting that anyone just give up on these types of story placements. They play a crucial role in a well-rounded PR campaign, they do serve a purpose and can always be considered a success when they show up in an evaluation of a campaign’s effectiveness. What I am saying is that it’s okay to rethink the approach on what should be considered a big win. I feel that a good story with a gaming blogger is worth a great deal, because of the potential for word-of-mouth spread among the blog’s readers and their friends. Many companies overlook bloggers and still haven’t caught up to how effective a good relationship with them can be.

A little bit of planning and thinking can go a long way. So when you’re choosing your targets to go after, and how aggressively to pursue them, always think back to how it will benefit the product and the team working on it. That way, you can avoid having to facepalm later!

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