Some time ago, we ran an informal survey among journalists/media/writers/editors in the games industry about their experiences with PR. Our motive was quite simple: to suck less… and to help other PR reps suck less. Now that I’ve err…. forced myself to actually dig into the 80+ responses, I’m going to start releasing our findings in a series of posts called, collectively, the “PR Embetterment Campaign.” I know “embetterment” isn’t a word. You’re not a word. Don’t tell me what’s a word.
In part 1, I wrote about the lack of communication between media and PR, and today I’ll keep going with the “pet peeve” theme to explore some other PR shenanigans that get the press riled up… or at least slightly perturbed. From doing their best cyborg impersonations to crappy pitches, how else do PR reps in the video game industry get under media’s skin?
There are apparently a rather high number of robots working in video-game-PR positions. At some point these PR reps ceased to be the chipper fresh-out-of-college practitioners they once were and transformed into publicizing cyborgs — on the surface human, but generally unable to understand the complexities of human emotion and incapable of enlisting common sense in their daily activities.
Several issues raised by media are related to this frightening condition, starting with an issue that permeates the PR profession in every industry I’ve worked in (that’s games, tech, social media): poorly targeted story pitches. For those unfamiliar with the ancient ways of PR, it’s our job to propose (pitch) stories to media. Step one in securing coverage for a story is crafting a compelling pitch; you need something to capture the writer’s attention. The next step is figuring out who might actually be interested in said story. I’ll illustrate this with a really stupid example: I wouldn’t pitch a story about the beautiful art design in CD Projekt RED’s upcoming Cyberpunk to a blogger who covers fast food trends.
It can certainly be difficult to figure out who to pitch, particularly given the prevalent desire to get coverage on every media outlet known to man. Hell yeah, securing coverage on Gizmodo is awesome, but you should probably realize that they generally don’t cover individual games. It’s exceptionally rare for a game-related story to cross over into non-game media, but I’m fairly certain that the writers at Gizmodo are subjected to a relentless flood of pitches about games… after all, they cover technology and the internet and stuff, right?
The issue isn’t just related to pitching the wrong outlet, though — individual writers often have their own preferences or beats, and pitching them a story that doesn’t fit within those constraints will probably find its way to the Trash folder pretty fast. You’re adding yet another email/voicemail/whatever to a massive pile of pitches that media receive in a given day, and you’re making it really easy for a writer to ignore you… and in a roundabout way, I think that if a lot of PR folks are sending poorly targeted pitches, those who are sending good pitches are more likely to be ignored. It makes PR reps look lazy, and if kept up, it’s a good way to nullify the effectiveness of future correspondence.
A Good Pitch Takes Time
A big part of the problem is that most PR agencies/departments have one list of media or, in the best-case scenario, a few lists, divided by platform (Xbox, PC, etc.) or region or “tier”/popularity… or some combination of those. They’re asked to pull together a list of media targets for an asset blast, and they just grab their full list, and blast out the story/pitch to everyone on it. There’s also the fact that we live in a society where we constantly have to be producing results — rather than allowing time to sit back and really think about who we’re pitching, there’s always another story around the corner that needs to be placed. Placing one really solid story — from crafting a target list to the initial pitch to the final coverage — is a time-consuming process, and boy, it’s just so much easier to blast out to everybody and hope someone bites.
As an agency, we’ve invested a lot of time into building a system that helps alleviate some — but not all — of this issue. Media who work with us are able to choose from a lot of fairly granular preferences, at least reducing the amount of email they get from us. When we’re gearing up for a review or a press tour, the tools at our disposal make it a bit easier to whittle down the lists into appropriate targets… but still, it takes a lot of time to do the job right. There’s no way around it, and it seems like the “less is more” approach has really taken on incredible importance in the past few years. It used to be a lot easier to just send out some new screenshots and have them covered by a bunch of outlets. Today we’re spending quite a bit more time crafting individual pitches for specific outlets (or even for particular writers), and we’re shifting more resources toward content creation, so as to make our pitches more compelling. We’re not quite there yet, but I think we’ve made some strides, and the end result should be that we’re securing fewer stories that have a greater overall impact.
Automation is Good, Mmkay?
One thing I knew I’d hear about in our survey was a big factor in why we opted to automate our media database: outdated contacts. A lot of media complained that PR departments were sending review product to the wrong mailing address, sending press releases to outdated emails, or even pitching stories to writers who had long since moved on to other outlets. When your media database contains thousands of people, it’s definitely hard to keep up on everything, but it’s pretty terrifying to get a look at some agencies’/companies’ lists… they often contain contacts who haven’t covered games in years. After all, media are relying on someone in the PR department to actually open the database and make adjustments… and as I’ve alluded to, time is a scarce commodity. Yeah, it takes a minute to make a change, but updating contact info is a relatively low-priority task for most. So… errr… we just absolved ourselves of all responsibility and have given media the ability to edit their info themselves. Yes, it’s a bit lazy. So sue me. 🙂
Of course, the downside of automation is… the automated part. “Dear [First Name], as we highly respect your media outlet, we feel that this would be of interest to your audience,” said the form letter that was sent to hundreds of highly respected media outlets around the world. There’s a reason we don’t use the “custom fields” portion of our email system: you’re bound to look like an idiot when someone fills in the “name” field incorrectly. Mail Merge or other automated email systems are a vital tool for PR, but the mistakes they create sure do a good job of perpetuating the Robopublicist thing.
Just Be Human, Dammit
We also got a lot of feedback about PR reps being almost robotic in their responses… not the automated responses, either. On launch day, for example, it’s so very easy to sit at your desk and go through dozens (or hundreds) of requests for review code, copy-paste the same “I’ve added you to the list!” message and move on. Nevermind that the journalist whose email you just responded to only briefly mentioned the review code before asking a bunch of questions.
All of these concerns come down to a simple issue: a lot of PR reps spend too much time pushing info out and trying to get all the coverage in the world, and rarely take the time to put themselves into media’s shoes (PR shoes are probably much fancier, I suppose). PR peeps: do you want to get a bunch of review requests for a game you’re not working on? Do you feel better about being approached directly by a writer working on a story, or having said writer blast a “request for comment” to every PR department in the industry?
I think that we could all remind ourselves of our humanity once in a while, particularly in today’s technology-obsessed society.
Other Installments in the PR Embetterment Campaign:
Games Media’s Biggest Pet Peeves, Part 1
The Simultaneous Wonder and Folly of the Press Release