Since I began writing online more than five years ago, I’ve had the incredible luck to have worked with legendary musicians, video game developers of AAA titles, and CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. When I was a music journalist, the common theme was that the band managers that I often-times had to go through were overprotective and, more times than not, were the reason I never interviewed many of the musicians I wanted to profile.
Even when I wrote for a newspaper, I found band managers would frequently do everything in their power to get in the way. I actually found that when I did the work to obtain direct contact with the musicians themselves, my success rate in being able to speak with them was exponentially higher. In fact, when I was able to completely bypass the management aspect of their structure, I was able to interview musicians from bands like Korn, Boston, Dio, and Alter Bridge. I’ve also received a few direct lines from the guy who I consider to be the greatest guitarist of all-time, Slash.
There is one example, for which I won’t name the band, where I contacted the band directly for an interview, and even though they agreed to do it, they had to defer to their label representative at Roadrunner, who never made an attempt to return any of my e-mails or calls. I was able to interview them two years down the road after they left that label, but the common approach that I noticed from a lot of band managers and publicists is that they are the ones with the power in the PR/journalist relationship.
That same feeling has followed me into the video game industry. It used to be that the big magazines, the GamePros and EGM’s of the world, would receive review copies, no questions asked. Now, however, there are so many unprofessional and biased sites on the internet that PR reps have every right to be more scrutinizing about who does, and does not receive review copies and interviews. If JoesVideoGameBlog.com contacts a PR rep for a review copy, that rep wants to make sure that a) their reviews will be read by more than 5 people, and b) they are going to review it fairly and will look at it with a critical eye, rather than a malicious one. Review copies aren’t free and they want to get their money’s worth; I get that.
Unfortunately, the overarching theme I’ve noticed with PR reps — though there are exceptions — is that they feel as though they have the power over the journalists. The way I see it, the PR/journalist relationship is one that should be truly symbiotic. PR reps provide the journalists with press releases, interviews, and, of course, review copies. That undoubtedly helps us do our jobs better. On the flip-side, however, journalists provide PR reps with free publicity for the products they are working and the clients they are serving.
The reason for this perceived power struggle is due to the fact that there are more small sites on the net than there are large sites. The bigger the site, the more important it is to the PR company. The inverse is true as well: the bigger the title, the more important it is to the game sites. The problem is that there are so many small sites vying for attention from PR that multiple requests are required in order to receive a response in some instances. That is likely more the fault of the writing community, however, as the needy, smaller sites actually seem to work to satisfy the PR reps more than they do their readers. It comes down to what the writers are in the industry for, because honestly, some truly are here just for the free games and couldn’t care less about integrity. It’s that group of writers that instills this mentality that writers should be bowing to the PR reps rather than working together with them.
Unfortunately, many PR reps have given off the impression that there is this great hierarchical divide between themselves and the writers. I think that since PR reps hold the key to the coverage, whether it be a contact in the studio, or the physical review copies themselves, they feel as though that they hold the power. The issue lies in the changing climate of the video game journalism industry. Instead of just the magazines, PR reps now have to field requests from sites that, let’s face it, aren’t the most reputable. With the internet, every whiny fanboy on Earth now has a perceived legitimate voice that can be spoken. The PR industry recognizes that, and thus, must adapt to the changing climate. Should Activision send a review copy of Modern Warfare 3 to a site called CallofDutySucks.com? If they want to paint their game in a positive light, which is the main goal of any Public Relations team, of course they shouldn’t.
The feeling must be commonplace, as the Twitter world was recently lit ablaze by a Tweet from Jim Redner of The Redner Group. The tweet, which stated, “Too many went too far with their reviews…we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom,” has resonated throughout the gaming industry and even cost Redner his role promoting future projects with 2K Games, including his role with The Darkness II. I understand that the Tweet was addressing the “venom” behind many of the reviews, not the actual scores themselves, but when there is a perception that journalists could be potentially blacklisted for writing their honest opinions, PR reps are stepping into dangerous territory.
When I first read the tweet, I was shocked. The idea that a PR team would state that openly seemed almost borderland cyber-bullying of the very people Redner relies on to do his job, but try to think about the underlying meaning of it. In his apology, which was sent to every journalist that received a review copy of Duke Nukem Forever, Redner clarified that he was referencing the overtly biased reviews that went in with the very mission of smashing Duke Nukem Forever without even giving it a chance, and it had nothing to do with scores. When you think about all of the sites that exist, as well as all of the sites that may have received review copies of Duke Nukem Forever, there were many that did, in fact, go out of their way to trash the long-awaited shooter.
Honestly, we’d be lying if we told you that publishing this article was without risk. We could be upsetting a PR Rep for some company, causing us to miss out on advance copies of AAA titles in the future. Perhaps that recognition alone is further proof that the PR departments hold too much power over journalists. We hope that’s not the case, but to sit and act like there isn’t at least a small problem is not only counter-productive to a necessary symbiotic relationship, but also dishonest.
Are there some PR reps that we really enjoy working with on a near-daily basis? Absolutely. I’d even go as far to say that there are many. The purpose of this article is not to alienate those that we do enjoy working with, but rather get an issue that I see worth discussing out in the open. Hopefully those that do possess that “holier than thou” mentality will see this piece, recognize that they are a member of that group, and, ultimately, change the way they conduct themselves.