No matter how small a developer or publisher is, most of the time it's divided into several teams and departments working on the same projects. Coordinating the efforts of everyone at the development level is an obvious necessity; it should be the same within the communication departments. This last section focuses on the coordination between public relations, marketing and community relations, before going deeper in the impact of PR operations in the relations between developers and publishers.
These Three Golden Rules come under management more than communications, and can be applied to all types of projects involving teams.
One message for all
Each project has a core concept; all communication will be based on it. This is the Communication Axis, and it should be followed by PR, marketing, and community teams, all reinforcing this core message for maximum efficiency.
Sometimes, ideas released through media and marketing are so different that people think there are two different games. This is the mistake to avoid at all costs. The definition of the Communication Axis should be done in a discussion involving all relevant persons, from the producers of the game to the lead community manager, and all should agree on this core concept.
On each and every communication operation from then, the following question should be asked: "How does this operation support the Communication Axis?". If the answer is "it doesn't", then it means that the communication is going a different direction, and thus weakenes the strength of the core message.
Never go into communication without having a proper Communication Plan. This document is the roadmap of all communication teams and contains all the information needed to manage the communication operations, including a full schedule, the explanation of the communication axis and core concepts, contact information of all teams, and often a market study to help the teams know which audience they will engage.
Not only will this document help keeping your communication on track, but it will as well help newcomers in each team have a fast start, which is especially useful on very long term projects. Depending on your company policies, more or less information will be included, and not everybody need to have access to the full document -- but the more information they have, the more it helps each team to communicate in a joint voice.
Well, now you think: "Okay, he already wrote it. The first rule of communication is to communicate!" No matter how obvious it might be, the hardest thing in communications is to force people to talk to each other.
Let's say you have worked out a good Communication Axis and built a Communication Plan around it. All your preparation work can be wasted by a few unexpected events if you are not able to adapt your plan to new information, and communicate this change to the other parties involved.This can be done by phone, or meetings, but I tend to prefer e-mails as written communications leave tracks that can be copied, forwarded and read many times, and don't waste as much time as meetings do.
Also, keep in mind that this shouldn't be a one-way communication and the point of view of everybody should be thought through thoroughly. It takes more time, of course, but produces greater results as well.
Before talking about exceptions and special cases, I would like to add a fourth rule, which should be known to all: Respect.
Too many times have I heard about marketing managers giving a rough time to their community colleagues because they think that marketing work is more important. Too many times have I heard anger in the voice of some PR guys who didn't like how their marketing colleagues said they could buy the world with the right budget.
Communication can't work if people don't respect each other's work and positions, and if one of the Golden Rules is broken from the beginning, you'd better forget about your plan. These kinds of issues come very often from a lack of knowledge and understanding of each other's work and duties. If you are encountering these problems, maybe arranging a couple of days where community people can join marketing in their work, or marketing with PR, might help people to know each other much better.
The difference between Public Relations and Community Management is very small. Ultimately, community managers are doing public relations towards the fans, and that is exactly why these two teams should coordinate very closely. For the purpose of this article, we are going to define the roles of each, but of course it always depends on the company and the operation.
Public Relations is usually in charge of media relations, and getting people involved in the game's community. Community Managers will be handling these very same people once they have joined that fan community, and keep them entertained and up-to-date on the details of the project. In this case, magazines, websites, TV, radios, etc. will be on the table of the PR guys while the CM will handle the fansites, developer's blogs, official forums, etc. If everybody is aware of the core message, has read and understood the communication plan and is aware of his own duties, everything should be fine, until you stumble upon uncertain ground:
Fansites & Community Websites. Where's the border between a fansite, and a media site? When a community website specialized in, for example, MMOs drives millions of page views every month, shouldn't it be considered as equal to media even if it is only managed by volunteers? Some other media are established as companies and pay their editors, but don't have a professional approach to the industry -- who should they talk to?
The Dragonica Community Managers saying "Hello" in three different languages
There is no general rule for this situation, but here is the one I usually apply: if a community website is visited by users who do not know your game and discusses various games and interests, then it's "media", and it can help you acquire new users and thus is usually managed by the PR team. If all of the website's readers are already playing your game and know it, then it's a fansite and should be handled by the community managers.
Blogs. The question of whether blogs should be considered media or not is very similar to the same situation with fansites, and thus should be answered the same way -- mainly, studied case by case. Major and well established blogs like Joystiq and Massively are undoubtly important media, even though they gather fan communities.
I know some publishers have outsourced bloggers relations to an external agency. At Gala Networks Europe, the choice has been to have a dedicated person in charge of handling relations with blogs. Depending on your company's situation and policies this may vary, but never forget this very important part of online public relations just because some of them do not look nice. Content is king, nowadays, and blogs have more than they can handle.
Official Developer Blog, Official Forums. Once again, there is tricky ground here. Development blogs and official forums are part of the community and, most of the time, taken care of by community management. But obviously, if they are "official" blogs and forums, they carry official weight, and thus many media will take source stories from them.
On this, I wouldn't spread the responsibility; these tools require full-time attention, and only a dedicated community team can actually do it. This is something that has to be shared, then, by the two teams, with a lot of communication to make sure that the core message is respected, that no information is kept secret for later announcement will slip off in a buried thread of the forums, and so on and so forth.
The boundary between public relations and community management is so small that hundreds of other uncertain cases probably exist, and for all of them, keep the three Golden Rules in mind, and communicate with each other as much as possible.