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Whether you’re in-house, at an agency or doing it yourself; having a strong foundation in managing a PR campaign is essential for getting the results you need at the end of the program. Effective PR management can not only help you hit all your targets, but maximize your ROI, stay under budget, and forge an effective team that’s a force to be reckoned with in the communications world. Here are a few quick tips on how to stay on target with your plan.

Get everyone involved in planning

Before any campaign gets started, there’s always a planning stage that outlines the goals you want to reach, the tactics you’ll use to reach them, and the underlying message that every tactic should hit back to or support. Make sure everyone who will be involved in the execution of the plan has had some input; this helps achieve two key elements of a successful plan. First, it will make it easier for everyone to understand the plan and stay on point if they had a chance to contribute their ideas. Once everyone understands how their ideas fit in with the other moving parts, it’ll be harder to lose focus of the “big picture”. Secondly, people are more willing to fight for something if they feel they have a vested interest in it. If you’ve contributed something to a plan, no matter how small, you’re now a part of that plan and you’ll want to see it succeed.

Stick to the plan

Anyone who’s worked in PR knows that the only thing that’s certain in the business is uncertainty. Things can change at a second’s notice, so it seems counterintuitive to focus on “sticking to the plan”. However, with every plan there are outlined goals, tactics on how to reach those goals, and and underlying message that every tactic should lead back to, tying it all together. When you have to change tactics on the fly, choose your substitutions wisely. Ask yourself, “Does this fit in with the plan? Does this support our message?” When you have a strong plan outlined it’s okay to color outside of the lines every now and then, as long as you don’t lose sight of the ultimate focus.

Know your team

A great manager is above all else, a great leader. And as such, it’s a manager’s responsibility to know their team’s members, their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, etc. If you’re delegating tasks, make sure that you assign duties to the team members who have skills that complement that task. If someone is a good writer, have them be your first choice for written materials. If another stronger by communicating verbally, have them be your lead on phone pitching or on the floor at industry events. When you’re managing externally, like with an agency or other vendor, take the same approach but keep in mind things like each team member’s billing rate and skill level. Making the right assignment choices are key to getting the results you want, and staying on track with budget.

Work with the ebb and flow

Things always change with any plan, and a good manager stays on top of these shifts with quick responses. If someone on your team did a great job on something, make sure they’re recognized for it. Well-timed kudos are key for building team morale and project momentum. If someone missed the mark, open up discourse with them and work together to identify the misstep and how it can be improved in the future. And above all else, listen to your team members who are operating on the front line of the campaign; they will have first-hand insight as to what is working and what needs work.

Evaluate constantly, not just at the end

Most folks save the project evaluation stage until the campaign has ran its course. However, evaluating every tactic in real time can make for more impressive results when all is said and done. During a game’s life cycle, chances are you’ll show it at more than one trade show. So, take what you learn from each showing and apply it to each subsequent event where you’ll show the game. Apply it to every tactic like what development team members you bring along, where you show the game, who you show it to, etc. Judge every tactic’s effectiveness and use it to tweak any upcoming tactics where relevant; don’t just let things “run their course”.

When you’re effectively managing your PR plan, team and strategy, great things happen. The key to staying ahead of the curve is staying on top of the day-to-day, and that type of attention to detail is a cornerstone to any successful management.


I’ve been playing games for more than 20 years and during that time, I’ve experienced some that have stuck with me and kept me coming back. The one game that I commonly cite as “my favorite game of all time” is Final Fantasy VII.

There are several reasons why this game means so much to me, but the most significant is that it is the game that got me back into gaming after a brief hiatus. Before FF VII, the last game I remember getting absorbed by was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. After that game, I was pretty caught up in things like high school and sports, hanging out with friends, learning to play musical instruments – I had a lot of new hobbies and things going on that demanded my time. It wasn’t until FF VII when I really got caught up in games again.

I had a friend who owned a PlayStation, and we played a bit off and on. I figured that I’d get one too, after all I hadn’t played games in so long that it seemed about time for a new console. When it came time to choose the first game I’d buy with it, I saw FF VII and remembered the love I had for the original Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II on SNES (which was IV to everyone else). Nothing could prepare me for the experience that soon followed.

From the opening sequence, FF VII was so much more than I was expecting. No more 2D sprites, these characters were moving around a wonderfully crafted Midgar that was beautiful in its dreariness. No wandering through a town to ramp up, this game threw you and a partner right into the thick of a full-scale infiltration mission. The music, pacing of the action, sense of scale, was all so epic and more than I was used to.

In the weeks that followed, time seemed to melt away. I poured so many hours into that game; locating every monster, reveling in all of the side quests, and becoming connected to all the characters in this grand story.

FF VII was also able to convey this amazing amount of emotion. We all know the scene that got the most attention from fans – the death of Aeris. When that happened, even though she wasn’t a character I used much, I was floored. Conditioned by the usual video game rules, I kept expecting her to come back before the end of the game until I finally accepted that she was gone forever. I couldn’t remember a time where a character death affected me so much, so I came to the conclusion that this was the first FF game where one of your characters suffers a “true death” that Phoenix Downs won’t solve. A while later I went back and played FF IV and realized that characters there died at the drop of a hat, some never to come back! It was odd then, that those characters didn’t have the impact on me that FF VII characters did.

Brilliantly detailed lands, deeply written characters, amazing cutscenes, and epic summon spells. FF VII had it all, and was the transitional point from Final Fantasy games of the past and the epic adventures we enjoy now. I’ve played through this one several times, and it never gets old. And if the long-standing rumors are true and the game was remade for today’s systems, you bet I’d be more than happy to get sucked into this world once again!

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!

Earlier this week I fired up my Xbox 360 for the first time in a long while, and noticed that I still hadn’t updated my system with all the new elements of the NXE Dashboard Update. My wife and I wanted to download some TV episodes from the marketplace, and after downloading the new Zune video marketplace I realized something that clicked with me. All the videos I’d ever purchased under my Windows Live ID were there, and I could stream them from the dashboard. No more having to mull over what game demos to delete, no more frantically trying to free up space or ponder upgrading my HDD. It just made perfect sense and I immediately wondered why all of my digital content couldn’t work this way.

Some people resist the shift of game distribution from physical to digital media, and some hate the idea of cloud computing. I say they can’t come soon enough. I recently had a bad experience with a retailer I won’t name (national chain store, not a gaming store) that left me fed up with brick and mortar. I preordered Final Fantasy XIII, thinking I’d get it a day after launch at the latest. What followed was the most infuriating ordeal as my shipment got delayed five times, finally shipping out a month after the game launched. In the meantime, I bought it at a more reliable store to ensure that I’d get it then and there. The entire time I was dealing with customer service for the original store, I kept thinking to myself about how this would never happen if I was just given the option to download the entire game straight to my console.

Another part of digital content I can’t live without is downloadable content (DLC). One of the best games I’ve played in the past 10 years, Fallout 3, had brilliant DLC. And the best part about it was that it was there to download whenever I felt ready for it. And when I finished the main game, I snagged up each installment of the DLC to create a seamless reentry back into The Capitol Wasteland I’d grown to love so much. Lately I’ve grown so spoiled by digital content that I even loathe having to get up and swap discs to play a different game! I’d much rather have all my games on my HDD, ready to switch around on a whim. As a multitasker by nature, if I find a way that allows me to juggle more things in an afternoon more efficiently, I’m all over it.

Brick and mortar stores do have their charm; and some things they provide can’t be replaced. But as I get older, those irreplaceable intangibles mean less to me than the time I save by having things at my fingertips ready to download. I used to love getting preorder bonus swag from the game stores, now I’d prefer them to take it in a digital direction. Yes, I’ll still preorder a game from a traditional retailer if they offered it as a digital voucher. But you can give me my preorder bonus in the form of a digital in-game item or unique mode and I’d be way more receptive. Digital doesn’t have to mean the end of business as we know it; more like a new venue to engage and interact with your customers.

So for someone who’s getting more conscious of his free time, I say streamline my content and make it all digital! No more trips to the store is fine with me. I’ll download a game and that means one less disc to worry about getting lost or damaged. I’ll gladly keep my saved game files and movies on a cloud storage solution; I’m smart enough to backup the data that is important to me if I need to have it on hand. I definitely consider myself to be a gaming purist at heart, but I’m not going to cling onto the old ways, afraid of stepping out into a bold new digital world.


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