Many people think PR and marketing are the same thing, imagining a PR guy arranging an interview with the phone on one hand, and making an advertising buy with the other. Sometimes, marketing and PR are just merged into one team, which is most of the time unfortunately named the "Marketing Department" because then you don't have to bother explaining the difference to everybody.
Fortunately, though, duties are very much separated and most of the time; being in one team just makes it much easier to collaborate and coordinate. So, once again and for the purpose of this article, let's work with this base: marketing is usually in charge of advertising, sales, and all paid promotion, while public relations takes care of the media relations from an editorial point of view.
If we follow this base and make sure that the Three Golden Rules are followed as well, everything should be perfect, but please let me highlight some common issues in this coordination:
Caution with your message. Be careful about graphical charts and advertising design. The core message shouldn't only be reflected in any spoken or written communication; it should as well be reflected in the slogans, in the choice of the colors and style, in the style and the footage that is shown on online advertising banners, etc.
Be especially careful when the design is outsourced to an external agency, as they should be provided with an extract of the communication plan to understand everything that's at stake in the design they're working on. Just imagine a magazine with, on the left, an article talking about the great PvP features of your new MMO, and on the right page, very nice advertising with an emphasis on PvE elements. Both messages would be broken.
Know your place. If you are on the PR side, don't try to suggest that a good review will attract some advertising. If you're on marketing side, don't try (direclty or indirectly) to put pressure on editorial. If you're on both sides -- like I've been for a long time now -- make sure everything is clear in your mind and in your partner's mind as well. Recent history has proved that ethics have to be kept straight at all times in our industry, and the publisher will only become the bad guy in this story. On the other hand, I've seen many more media offering bribes to marketing or PR guys than the contrary.
Stick to the schedule. If the marketing department is running a campaign for pre-registration with a launch date on it, and it hasn't yet been announced on the PR side, your credibility will take a hit. On the contrary, if a massive advertising campaign begins on the very day that media partners announce in their news that your game is out and publish its review, the impact of the advertising will be increased -- as will the impact of the PR work. Coordination remains the key here.
Learn from each other. In my experience, PR people very often have a better knowledge of the media landscape than marketing people do, because they go out and hunt for any piece of coverage they can get. Big websites and publications are not always the best bet for effective advertising, and sharing some very niche but highly effective contacts between the two departments might lead to a very successful operation.
A press conference given by Nival Online about Allods Online
Nowadays, everybody can communicate and reach the public directly. When a publisher and a developer who are communicating on the same project can't coordinate with each other, it can lead to a little bit of a mess. So now just imagine the situation for an MMO which involves a developer and a dedicated publisher in every major territory in the world, all communicating at the same time on the same project without any coordination. This is probably the closest thing to chaos I've ever experienced.
Still, there are a lot of advantages in maintaining separate communications, as long as they're well coordinated. Community building and communication is served well by a dedicated team located within the developer's offices, who usually know the product better, can react faster, use important tools like video blogging showing the work-in-progress that give a human face to the game, gather public opinion and give direct feedback to the developers, etc.
Also, from a consumer point of view, knowing that the people who manage the community are very close to the developers themselves gives a much better image to the whole communication.
On the other side, there are a lot of advantages from efforts on the publisher's side. Publishers can usually put much more effort and resources into communication and marketing, as they have dedicated and experienced teams. These teams not only have experience and tools at their disposal, but they have as well a wide network of contact that they have built over the years and can use on new projects.
So, to sum it up, there are advantages on both sides, and thus the right decision would be to take both and coordinate them well. For this, the use of the Three Golden Rules remains de rigueur, except that it will be even more complicated, as both teams will have to coordinate among themselves before coordinating with the other side. Usually, the establishment of one contact person on each side of the development process and in charge of the coordination of the whole is a good choice -- if you can afford it.
On the crazy situation I mentioned on the paragraph above, the worst outcome could be that within the various publishers operating the same game, some of them might be competing with each other for users, and this is a battle that takes place on a communications ground. In this situation, the developer has to take the position of the arbitrator and be fair to all of its partners.
Coordination between the communication teams of the competing publishers might as well be a very acceptable solution as well. In order to avoid information leaks and other stabs in the back from all sides, together deciding a common ground is a good choice for the publishers and, further, better for the developer who's benefiting from the combined efforts of many publishers to promote his game.
Public relations is an ever-changing discipline whose goal is to differentiate your product from the others, thus pushing innovation and creativity every day -- or at least that's how it should be.
PR people sometimes have difficult relations with the other departments involved in the creation and commercialization of a game, but that neglects the truth: the only way for a company to succeed in the war of information is to make public relations an integral part of the development process from the very beginning. If there is only one piece of advice that you should remember from this article, it should definitely be this one.