The problem with PR companies and gaming

8 min read
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RAAAAGE

Earlier this week a local PR company, Craving Novity, accidentally released a press release about Gran Turismo 6 early and without any embargo information. This was then instantly posted up by iAfrica and a few others. It was quickly picked up by major international outlets and Polyphony’s big reveal was effectively ruined. This is my long-winded rant about how I feel about the whole situation. 

I got on my high horse and heavily criticised the people involved over Twitter; not because we were beaten to the punch but because this hurts all of us locally, and we demand a higher quality of coverage in South Africa.

But let’s back up a bit. Yes I do get upset when local media beat us to a story; it irritates me that we’re beaten by someone else and yes, it gets my back up. I expect us to be the best and to be honest if I didn’t, I really shouldn’t be doing this job. It’s friendly competition and we have a lot of respect for our colleagues in the industry. I do, however,  hate a bunch of you for pandering to advertisers and throwing up overly positive reviews just to please the distributors – but that’s life (Don’t get me started on those who post press releases without investigation.)

But this was something entirely different, and in hindsight it wasn’t really the media’s fault for breaking the embargo. The PR sent by Craving Novity didn’t have an embargo date on it and while it was relatively obvious that this was embargoed news I can’t really slate a mainstream tech site for not realising that.

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But why does this keep happening across the planet? And more importantly why does it keep happening in emerging markets? Are we populated with idiots who can’t follow simple instructions? I simply don’t believe that. I work with some incredibly talented people at Lazygamer and in my other work, and I’ve lived overseas in numerous countries and I can honestly say we are just as well skilled as most of them.

So what’s the issue? For me the issue is that gaming in South Africa, and other emerging markets, isn’t being treated properly by the advertisers and marketers in the country.

Craving Novitiy’s job is to be the conduit between Ster Kinekor (PlayStation distributors) and the media in South Africa. It’s an important job and we push them and SK quite hard to ensure we are getting-up-to date information and access to products to compete with the International media. But from all I know about them, and every other PR company working in the gaming industry in SA, it doesn’t appear that they have a gaming expert in their midst. They are all PR and marketing people and see games as simply yet another product that needs pushing – all without taking into account who the end product is targeted at.

Out of the main distributors locally only 2 are left with external marketing companies; both of whom appear to know very little about gaming –  and it shows with the amount of delayed press releases and mistakes made in their handling of video game PR .

“So what?” I hear you say. “You guys don’t post press releases anyway so who cares if you get them late?”

Well the problem is that if we are not receiving the most up-to-date information directly from the top of the pyramid,  then we are continuously forced to report on what others are reporting on and simply turning into a news-churning site. There is a certain amount of that. which unfortunately cannot be avoided in any industry but we constantly strive to be counted as a fully-fledged gaming media site. In the end, the GT6 embargo break is going to hurt us all in South Africa – because we’re viewed as a region as opposed to individual media outlets. 

Sony is now likely to delay any major press releases sent to South Africa until after the actual event has taken place, which means we will always be at least a few hours, perhaps even  days, behind the breaking news from the rest of the world. They may also stop sending preview copies of titles for us to report on and,  will be less trusting of inviting us to preview events. All of this hurts the local industry and in turn hurts your ability to receive independent and unbiased news.

No man not that kind of stonedSo should we string up Craving Novity and stone them to death? Well it seems harsh but maybe…what they did will cause issues for us and the other gaming sites. But it was an honest mistake and I’m not really much of an eye for an eye kind of guy; what I’d really like to see is a solution, and for me that solution is simple.

If you are in the PR, marketing and advertising industry and one of your clients is a gaming company then  hire a gamer with PR knowledge to help with that account. It only needs to be a junior to be honest; someone who can say “Hold up this is massive news” when an un-embargoed GT6 post comes in. How these companies feel they can work in gaming PR and marketing without the inside knowledge blows my mind.

It’s like someone hiring me to manage a hospital because I’ve been in a hospital before. Just because you know what a video game is doesn’t mean you understand the industry at all.

But where are we going to get a gaming PR person who understands the industry, the media and the target industry? Well take a leaf out of the American and European industries and you will quickly see why they have far fewer leaks than anyone else. Why? They hire ex-gaming journalists to help

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I don’t want a job. Stay away from me, I have zero interest in working in PR

But I’m in the minority here, a lot of gaming media would jump at a chance to work in the gaming industry and liaise with media and the community. In America they are often called Community Managers and it’s their job to manage the liaison between gaming press and consumers to ensure the right information is being given out to the right people at the right time.

So can Craving Novity and The Mailroom (EA’s local guys) come back from their below-average performance? I’d like to think so. I’ve met with most of these people a few times and they aren’t inherently bad, or stupid,  or have a disdain for the industry. They simply don’t get it.

So put your feelers out into the market and find someone with some basic PR skills and a passion for gaming. You can’t teach passion but you can hone the basics of the PR industry. It will make a world of difference to your ability to really market a companies gaming front.

34865980And after complaining about how useless the PR is locally I’d like to also say we have some really passionate people in the industry locally. Microsoft, Megarom and Ubisoft all have PR members who absolutely love gaming and who understand what the media and gamers want. Yeah, they get overruled by the corporate overlords at times but they do their best.

Nintendo and Apex are really good when it comes to community events but in my humble opinion they waste too much money on smaller events and ignore the media entirely which doesn’t help them in the long run. You have to find a balance

As far as EA goes? Well I like the EA guys (and girls) but they are more retail-facing locally and  their PR, The Mailroom, really doesn’t understand gaming at all. We’ve actually been asked before what editorial we’ll give them for doing a review or running a competition. We don’t ever promise editorial for anything. What EA are great at though,  is supporting local tournaments and community events. 

So to summarise;the gaming PR landscape in SA is mostly good but we are dropping the ball in key areas and it can be fixed if the right people are put in the right place.

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Oh and for the love of god people stop falling for the smooth talking cock suckers who are just schmoozing you for benefits. Flying down someone for a Cape Town launch who has a readership of less than 1000 is idiotic. I’ve seen people getting loan cars, clothing, electronics and holidays because they’ll tweet out a thanks to their 900 followers. Have some respect for your job; if the guy/girl gives your product a sterling review when you know it sucks,  then drop them. If you don’t know that your crappy product sucks then you are delusional.

We’re all adults, act like it. (While I  continue to throw my toys)

Last Updated: May 17, 2013

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