James Brightman's article last Wednesday was really interesting, and if you're a good PR, you would have read it. It's here, for those interested.
If you're new to the field, or a seasoned professional, you should never be afraid to take advice, listen to another's point of view, or be afraid to learn new things. Public Relations, like most roles within the video games industry, is an ever-changing one which sees you having to continuously improve your skill sets, all of which are constantly evolving. Community, social media, influencer relationships - all of this can fall within our remits, on top of a huge pile of documentation, interaction and as James said, pitching. A common reason we PR professionals love our jobs so much is its varied nature. Sure, there are staples of any job, but the product-led nature of our industry means we're always trying something new.
All the points raised in the article are valid, and for a newbie, they're essential reading. For those in the old guard, they're either an acknowledgement of the work you've been doing, or a reminder of on-the-ground work we used to do, or things we can remember. With the contraction of editorial staff in both print and online, bar a few exceptions, we understand time is a constraint for writers and the need for efficiency, honesty and integrity is paramount.
It's pleasing to think that the vast majority of publicists in the industry are keen to build relationships based on these principles. As the new breed of internet-savvy journalists, where SEO is as important as content, have begun to propagate throughout the media landscape, there's a few tips we can give to make life easier. This isn't exhaustive, but much like Wednesday's editorial, it's a good starting point.
The phone is your friend
The best publicists aren't those with the biggest contacts book, it's the relationships that matter. Those relationships are built from nothing, in most cases. The exceptions are publicists like myself who were formerly journalists, and carried those relationships with them. Way back in the early 21st century, a good journalist would call PRs all the time. Daily news meetings consisted of 'what news do we need to cover from last night, what angles can we find, and who is ringing who today to create stories?' Every day, I'd be on the phone, talking, finding that story, chasing assets and booking review code. On the other side of the fence, making those calls in the opposite direction was paramount to relationships, but also to gaining coverage, the biggest aim of any PR campaign.
"We understand when you say no. It's actually ok. There are no blacklists when you decide not to cover our latest pitch"
However, Outlook has become a crutch for both media and PR alike, often shying away from picking up the phone, or meeting in person. Sure, the internet has made all our lives easier, and will no doubt continue to shape and evolve our relationships and our roles in ways we're yet to discover, but using the phone is an art, and it's fast becoming a last throw of the dice, rather than a first point of contact.
The ability to pick up the phone and pitch our stories is something I and many of the publicists value in new hires, but it's also a barrier to entry when dealing with press. I could name the editor of a hugely popular website, whose phone mailbox has been full for over three years, or the editor who doesn't respond to anything but a tweet, but that really isn't the point - we PRs know who likes using the phone, and who doesn't. Would it surprise you to learn that those that are receptive to a phone call get the most out of us?
We're not asking you to be our best friends, or trying to force you into writing something you're not interested in, we're just trying to secure coverage for our products or clients. We'll understand if you say no, and we respect your position.
Don't be afraid to say no
A publicist just said we understand when you say no. It's actually ok. There are no blacklists when you decide not to cover our latest pitch. Of course, we're disappointed sometimes when we think this is a story you'll cover, or previous editorial in the space doesn't secure us the eight-page feature we think it deserves; we understand your role, and your editorial decision, and your right to say no.
"No" is so much better than not hearing anything. Rob Crossley, now at PlayStack, used to say no to 90 percent of everything I pitched, and I loved the challenge, because when he said yes, it felt like a big win. There was no lingering, waiting for an answer, no chasing and repeated pitching in different styles or from a different angle. A no is as important as a yes, because we can move on to our next target, or use our time more efficiently, and just as importantly, take up less of your time.
"When a journalist doesn't show up [to an event without letting us know], this can cause a ripple effect through the fabric of space-time - or, as it's more widely known, our interview schedule"
"No" is not the most hated word in PR; while it isn't helpful to our campaigns, it's honesty is appreciated.
When you do say no, it's helpful to understand why you're saying no. 'Not one for us' is ok, but a reason why it doesn't tick your boxes is important. All this information is tracked. Death by spreadsheet, so to speak. The more information we have, the better we are informed for the future.
Do you know how much work goes into events?
Mini burgers. They're a staple of events. If there aren't any mini burgers, it's like Gamescom without sausage; E3 without a visit to In-n-Out.
Events are some of the most fun parts of our roles, but it's also some of the most detailed work we do. All the code you see running on all the machines, inside the perfect venue, whilst sipping the much-needed coffee. We do all of that. From logistics, through to budgets, content to transportation - there's so much involved, and every detail is important.
The side of these events you see is a save the date email, followed by an official invite, greeting you on the day and giving you everything you need to get as much out of the event as possible. The worst thing that happens is when a journalist doesn't show up, because this can cause a ripple effect through the fabric of space-time - or, as it's more widely known, our interview schedule.
If you can't make the event, just like a no, that's ok. We understand that things happen, people are ill, transportation links are terrible, and sometimes it's just the wrong day or the wrong time of year. If you let us know, we'll still do our best to help facilitate access where we can, and we'll bend over backwards, because it's our job to do so. Success in PR is measured on the coverage we secure.
"Most of our socialising is with people within the industry - but it's never an attempt to bribe you or affect the coverage we attain. We enjoy your company because we have shared interests"
However, if you don't let us know, things can get hairy, and if you've ever seen a PR running around at an event with a serious look on their face, it's because their schedule has gone to shit. If you keep us informed, we can change the schedule, be more efficient in our usage of talent who often have a limited number of hours available, or reassign the time we'd set aside for you to someone to make best use of it. Not letting us know means we can't do any of that. We then call you and email you because this is your access, and we want to give you every opportunity to use it.
As a journalist, my best relationships got me the best access, and not because I got too close, but because I understood the balance. Most PRs try keep that balance.
If anyone ever says, "Come on mate, those dinners aren't cheap," then just don't work with them. Our digital landscape of publishing and promotion has made the PR/Journalist balance more dynamic, and less face-to-face, but there's no reason to be aloof.
Most of our socialising is with people within the industry, be they press or partners we're looking to work with for our clients or brands - but it's never an attempt to bribe you or affect the coverage we attain. We enjoy your company because we have shared interests. We like talking to you, because we have this amazing job of working in an industry that millions would love to. We love video games, and we'll surround ourselves mostly with people who have similar interests.
There will always be that line which cannot be crossed when it comes to relationships, and if you feel like it's being crossed, then say so. But the best results are gained from the best relationships - that still rings true, not just for publicist, but for press. Sure, we still have the pitch, the invite, the review or the feature to place, but the door is open, as much for you as it is for us.
Gareth Williams is founder and COO of UK-based agency Little Big PR. He has spent almost ten years working in video games PR at leading firms such as Barrington Harvey and Premier.