MEDIA SPECIAL: What PR bosses really think

The strength of the UK games media depends on its relationship with the industry’s PRs and marketers. MCV chats to the latter about the future of magazines, the rise of online and more…

Magazine sales are falling, and are expected to keep doing so. How does this affect how you reach your target audience?Do you think the decline can be halted, or is the death of print inevitable?

Rich Eddy, communications director, Codemasters: We’re down to a handful of relevant specialist print titles in the UK and those that remain have broadened their reach with their brand voice – not only in print, but online, onscreen, on console and in social media.The audience is still there, and for gaming it’s bigger than ever – just look at the latest comScore figures.Opinion formers continue to be opinion formers and the crowd listens – it may not always agree, which is more transparent than ever through social and comment channels – but the crowd is still there and hungrier than ever for information and content.

Lee Kirton, UK marketing director, Namco Bandai: I don’t think [magazines] are going to disappear totally. Yes, the sales have dropped a bit, but I think that it will stabilise and there will still be a selection of good value games magazines out there carrying well written editorial. I also believe that we’re lucky to now have other forms of media available to us, which we can utilise in different ways. We can market a lot more directly now then many years back.

Cat Channon, PR director, NCsoft: I think in recognising their strengths and the distinction between what they offer and what’s available online, magazines can flourish.Those that rely entirely on still ‘being first’ are fighting a losing battle. But those who are able to invest in well written, well researched, opinion or personality led copy will, as many publications have, maintain a loyal readership.

Does the almost chaotic variety of online editorial outlets present any problems, or are there advantages to the current landscape?

Stefano Petrullo, senior PR manager, Ubisoft: There are so many outlets, and while it’s impossible to monitor and support all of them, the advantage is that we can tailor content to specific outlets. I like to think outside the box and move away from the usual announcement, first look, preview and review cycle – I love to create bespoke content for a particular media.

Channon: Choice is good. Moving away from the near monopolies that were held within specialist media in the past is a good thing. With the growth of new sites, blogs, mags and social media feeds in addition to the established and maturing media we have, there is a wealth of opinion and opportunity for a proactive press office to capitalise upon.

Eddy: Journalists have become bloggers, broadcasters, community liaisons and video hosts, and marketing and communications teams have in turn become physical content producers. The press release hit is now just the minutiae of a campaign, something that mops up the excess from the larger communication executions.Alongside editorial, video content is key and not just chunks of gameplay footage, but producing on-message programming that is both media-worthy and consumer credible.

Working with online media that wants and appreciates good created content is great and there’s appreciation on both sides what that content can do.

Is the rise of DLC and digitally distributed games changing the way you interact with the media? Is there less time to raise awareness of digital games through editorial and ads, and how do you deal with this?

Kirton: There is less time, but it’s a very different campaign. We rely a lot on first-party communication of digital titles through Xbox Live and PSN on console. It’s a lot harder to create the sort of PR campaign around these titles as you would with a triple-A retail launch because the distribution of code and announcement timings are different. This will change over the years though.

Eddy: Creating awareness is still crucial whether launching a box or delivering digital content – it’s still about building your audience and intent. Irrespective of the publishing model, there is absolute freedom to define campaign stages, with tailored beats and spikes to suit the timing, the product and the audience. Cookie-cutter campaigns running on template timelines have long gone.

We’ve strategically worked extremes of a 26-month staggered staged campaign for an IP reboot, to a 12-week campaign where a sports title has only a fixed season to become audience relevant.It’s the pre-sell period, be that a couple of years or a couple of weeks, that remains important; then riding the peaks and filling the troughs of awareness to launch and then engaging your community beyond launch when you’re looking to sustain their gaming experience with DLC.

Petrullo: DLC, XBLA, digitally distributed games and MMOs are definitely very different to handle than traditional boxed products.One of the things I love about this industry is how dynamic and fast moving it is, giving us the opportunity to experiment. Having a short window of time to build awareness requires more focus. It depends upon less assets but definitely a stronger message. We’re very conscious of that and we’re learning how to best approach the launch of those titles.

There’s an ongoing debate about the use of review embargos and scores held until the day of release or even after. Where do you stand on the issue?

Kirton: Ultimately, it’s no different to the movie industry. The publisher/developer owns their title, and they have free will to manage that title how they want and create the PR and marketing strategy.If the strategy is to target reviews scores around the month of launch then so be it. This doesn’t mean the game is not good.Sometimes if we can get an approved final review build for one of our titles then we’d ideally like to have reviews up front to help the title’s sales on day one. It depends on the game.

Eddy: The point here is that online editorial channels move at such speed, with so much churn on front pages, that the window of exposure is much tighter than ever before; it’s simply more relevant for gamers that reviews hit in at a coordinated point during ship week and be visible at that time.

At the most basic level, embargos are best used to coordinate; giving all online media the chance to play a title properly – not rush review to be first to post. We’ve been there before and it’s messy. Embargoes, with no agenda, are standard practice for the greater good.

Do magazine review scores still matter, or are consumers basing their purchasing decisions more on word of mouth via social networking sites and blogs?

Petrullo: What matters is creating interesting and engaging PR campaigns that take the consumer on a journey and allow them to find out as much as they wish to know about the game in the months approaching release.Our focus should be on developing innovative ideas and angles that drive a coherent message across the entire media landscape. Reviews are part of that process and they have an impact of course, but people now pre-order based on what they read during the pre-review stage.

Today’s games are detailed and complex and the essence of them cannot be captured in a number alone. We depend upon great writers turning out well written and passionate reviews that give gamers a good idea of what they will be experiencing when they play one of our games.

Eddy: Review scores matter when a campaign has been engaging with a core gaming audience, because ultimately the score does matter to that sector.However, the review isn’t the singular purchase intent decision point with core gamers – that happens much earlier; andprimarily that’s the job of well-messaged video content in an awareness programme.

As ever, those core gamers form the peak of the work-of-mouth pyramid and remain the opinion formers and key influencers. The rise of social networks provides them with a bigger and more accessible audience to broadcast their views to, as they inform and engage their peers.

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