If you’ve decided to work with a PR or marketing company or individual, you might be unsure as to the best way to work together. Some people talk about their desire to “outsource” their marketing to an external partner. But I’m not sure “outsourcing” is the most helpful way of looking at the relationship that exists behind a successful promotional campaign.
Where others might talk about “outsourcing” or call themselves a marketing “supplier”, we like to talk about “collaborations” — because at the heart of any great promotional relationship is a desire to work together to make great things happen. So if you decide to work with someone on your PR or marketing, here are five tips for making that magic happen.
1. Know who your audience is
You don’t need to understand your audience in-depth — figuring out exactly what they’re interested in, where they hang out, and which the best channels to reach them will be is the sort of stuff your marketing partner should be doing — but it’s really important to have a basic idea of who you want to reach with your campaign.
Depending on whether you’re looking to reach 18-25-year-old men, 30-40-year-old women, or a wider spread of different gamers, your campaign is likely to look very different. Your marketing partner would need to use different channels, create different materials, and reach out to different contacts with a completely different pitch, all depending on which audience you want your game to appeal to.
Some developers would like their marketing partner to advise them on which audience is the most likely to enjoy your game, but the fact is this isn’t an easy answer to give, and is likely to involve a lot of work in order to give you a professional and considered answer — which, from your perspective, will waste time and money that could be better spent on doing the actual marketing.
2. Learn to love pragmatism and criticism
When asking indies what’s important to them in a marketing partner, I have heard people say “it’s important that they love the game as much as we do.” While it may sound appealing to have someone on-board who unconditionally adores your project, in reality this often does more harm than good.
The best PR and marketing professionals are able to remain objective, take a step back from the passion, and rationally assess how your audience is likely to react to a product and its surrounding materials. They’ll then be able to recommend things you could do as a developer to improve people’s perceptions, or aspects of the marketing campaign that may help mitigate any risks.
Gamers are a particularly discerning market and you can’t convince them that a bad game is good, so it’s vital to be open to candid — even difficult — conversations if you want to give your game the best chance of success. Sometimes, accepting that a game isn’t perfect, and selling it based on its merit rather than its aspirations, can be the most suitable path.
3. Expect some extra work at your end
I read a Twitter thread a while ago — for the life of me, I can’t remember who it was by — which explained expertly why a lot of people who first work with a marketing partner are surprised at how much work they have to do.
In essence: a lot of indie developers are used to working in a team with clearly delineated responsibilities. The programmer writes the code. The artist makes the art. The composer makes the music. Each of these people all do their work in isolation, only for it to be brought together at the end.
But a marketing person, this Twitter thread explained, is more like a producer. Their job is to work with each of the disciplines within a development team to coordinate a project with a particular goal. A good marketing partner will be able to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but they won’t be able to do it in isolation.
If your marketing partner asks for a set of new screenshots or some video footage, or asks you to take time out of your schedule to conduct an interview or respond to comments on social media, or even requests that you delay a production milestone so that you can create a press demo — there’s a reason for that, and it will be for the good of the game’s success. Make sure you factor in time to help your marketing partner with these sorts of tasks, so they can do their job to the best of their ability.
4. Agree realistic deadlines, and stick to them
If you’re an indie studio that isn’t beholden to a publisher, you may be in a position where deadlines can be quite flexible. If you miss a milestone, you can always catch up in the future. And regularly revising your plan can be a great way to make sure you listen to the game’s needs during production.
When you start to involve external parties like a marketing partner, though, certain deadlines become very important. In project management we talk a lot about ‘dependencies’ — and from the perspective of a consultancy like ours, everything we do is dependent on our clients having a plan and sticking to the dates that are listed on it.
In order to plan our time effectively, and make sure we manage the expectations of those we work with (such as journalists and influencers), it’s vital that we understand when certain assets will be available to us. So if your marketing partner asks you to confirm a release date, or tell them when the trailer you’re making will be ready, think carefully about a date you can realistically commit to, and go out of your way to meet that deadline — otherwise this may have significant ramifications to your campaign.
Of course, sometimes, plans do need to change. In such instances, give your marketing partner as much notice as possible when you feel a deadline may slip, so that they can plan accordingly.
5. Resist the urge to micromanage
If it’s your first time hiring a marketing partner, you’ll surely been keen to understand what they’re doing. When someone is working away from the core team, on something as important as marketing your game, it can be tempting to try to follow every single aspect of what they’re doing, and give frequent input and feedback, to ensure they’re on the right track. We occasionally have clients who ask us for daily updates, or to join their morning stand-up via Slack. Seems sensible if you’re working together, right?
Well, not always. Ensuring your marketing partner communicates with you is important, but so is trusting their expertise and their ability to self-manage. Marketing can be a time-consuming task, and clients who insist on near-constant communication run the risk of wasting both their time, and that of their marketing partner — when that time would be better spent on progressing the game and the campaign.
A good marketing partner will be used to working independently, making decisions on the fly for the good of the game, and communicating back to you at key points. Agree to an overall plan and a communication pattern — be it weekly emails, a regular Friday meeting, or end-of-phase reports — but between these times, trust your partner to progress the campaign and make low-level decisions independently. Save up questions and ideas for your next call or update, allowing your marketing partner to crack on in the meantime, and you’ll likely find out they’re much more productive as a result.