Hey, you! That’s a big decision you’ve taken right there. If you’ve never worked with an external consultancy or agency before (and many of our clients haven’t), then doing so can feel like a big plunge. You’re spending money you’re not used to spending and putting some of your potential fortunes in the hands of someone else. And you’re perhaps not used to working with people outside your normal development processes.
So, what should you be thinking about, and what are some good questions to ask – both to yourselves, and the PR companies you’re considering hiring?
What do I want to achieve?
The answer to this might sound obvious – you want to get eyes on your game, right? – but in actual fact there’s more nuance to that, and different consultants specialise in different things.
Is this about getting lots of reviews at the time of launch? You’ll probably want to hire someone who’s used to running time-sensitive campaigns and working with lots of publications around the world simultaneously to get your game covered at the right time.
Is it about building up momentum from the start – working together to define and refine a PR strategy, and taking baby steps toward a later success? You might find a more consultative approach works better.
Is this about connecting with a large, particularly youthful audience, to get as many eyes on your project as quickly as possible? Your best bet is perhaps a new media specialist, someone who knows lots of YouTubers and streamers and other influencers.
And if this is a sheer numbers game for you, then I’ve got some bad news: PR isn’t the best approach if you want to see a clear through-line from activity to sale. A single review is unlikely to generate x number of sales; PR works best when it’s employed as part of a broader promotional strategy, enhancing your reputation, visibility and trust over an extended period of time. It’s not user acquisition – and any PR who promises to deliver against specific sales targets is probably best avoided.
How do I want to work?
PR support comes in lots of shapes and sizes. With major agencies in swanky city centre offices, freelance consultants who work from their bedrooms, and everything in between, it can be a challenge to figure out what is the best fit for your project.
A big agency will definitely have all the right connections, a full team with different specialists, and a certain ‘clout’ with the media – those emails are gonna get opened, and the phone is gonna get answered. But you might have to pay a bit more, and you’ll definitely need to accommodate their processes. Results will typically be good, and you’ll be able to trust that they’re getting on with the job – but the costs may be high and the approach less personal.
A freelance consultant will likely be more available for casual chats and updates, and more able to ’embed’ into your project, making them seem more like part of the team. They’ll also almost certainly be more affordable than a major agency, as their overheads will be much lower. The right freelancer can have as much clout within the media as a top agency – but they’re only one person, so there may be a limit to the scope of work they can achieve.
Some companies will offer a fuller-service promotional package, managing your PR and other marketing activities simultaneously. Others, like us, are small businesses that provide a personal and highly consultative approach, but who can build larger teams to plug in other services if required.
All of these approaches are of value, so think about which is the best fit for you.
What do my game and I bring to the table?
While it’s important to vet potential agencies and find the right one for you, it’s equally important to think about what you have to offer in this project you’re about to embark upon.
Unfortunately, no amount of industry schmoozing is going to convince a reporter to write about a game no one will be interested in, or a streamer to sit through five hours of Generic Shooter IV on launch day. And no journalist has ever got a great feature out of someone whose interviews become nothing more than a sales pitch.
A good PR consultant will be able to guide you, providing their take on what makes your game stand out, which messages to amplify, and what it is about your personality that’s just so darn irresistible. But it helps if you can come to the table with your own agenda, too.
Many years ago, I was looking to contract a B2B PR agency for a company I was working at. I sat down in a meeting with one, and their director began by saying: “Right, then – who do you want to reach, and what do you want them to think?”
It caught me off-guard a little – other agencies had begun with their own sales pitch, talked about what they can do and what they’ve achieved – but it was absolutely the correct opening question. It was important for them to get a sense of who we were, what we were about, who we were trying to impress and how.
Now, it’s a perfectly valid thing to want to bring in PR support to help you to answer these questions. But if you do have an idea of what makes you special, be sure to raise it in that first meeting or call – it can be vital in shaping the campaign that follows. And if you don’t, be prepared to put in some work to collaborate with your new PR partner and develop an identity that will get you noticed.
How much time do I have?
Both in the sense of ‘how long until my game launches?’ and ‘for how many hours can I make myself available?’
I’ve seen many studios only hire a PR company in the final couple of months before launch. That’s not necessarily a mistake, but be mindful of what’s realistic to achieve in such a short space of time. It takes a while for even an exceptional PR to get to know your product and begin to sell it into the media – so don’t expect miracles within a few weeks.
And think long and hard about your own availability, and your own ability to stick to a schedule. PR relies heavily on trust, and we often have to react quickly to media requests or opportunities. Many agencies will be happy to let you review and approve media messages before they go out, but that won’t fly if you’re likely to go AWOL for days at a time. And if you’re not going to be able to prepare assets, preview builds and other materials in a timely fashion, be sure to manage your agency’s expectations up-front; if they’re worth their salt, they’ll manage your expectations of what impact this may have on your success.
What value for money am I getting?
And that isn’t the same as “who’s the cheapest?”.
As promotional support comes in all shapes and sizes, it comes at lots of different prices too. When shopping around, particularly for PR for an indie game, you’re likely to see quotes ranging from as little as $100 to as much as $5,000+ per month.
It’s vital to interrogate what you’re getting for your money. Do they just offer a simple set of deliverables, or does that include consultative support as well? When they say they’ll contact the media, do they mean they’ll send a press release, or will they literally pick up the phone and speak to every key contact that’s right for your game?
You’ll also want to ask what results they expect to achieve for your game and at your budget level. An agency may boast about the ten billion copies sold in a previous project they worked on, but if that previous project was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and the budget was $25million, that’s not of much help to you.
A PR consultant may not be able to give you specifics of this in your first call, but a good one should at least be able to give you a sense of the size and scope of a project they could deliver for your budget, and an impression of how your game would likely perform should you move forward.
And most of all, don’t simply go for the person that promises the earth for the lowest price. Think very carefully about what you’re being told, and what that might mean for your project. The best PRs are often the most cautious – cynical, even – and the consultant that tells you why your game might not do very well, then gives you advice on how to change that, is the one to keep.