10 PR Strategies for Wargame Publishers

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One of the many hats I wear in my day job is Public Information Officer. As a result, I deal with PR opportunities from time to time and think about stakeholder engagement all the time. One of the things I’ve observed in the Wargaming hobby is the staggering disparity between publishers in stakeholder engagement. These 10 PR strategies will begin to help you today!

To be certain, this doesn’t stem from any anti-consumer sentiment. It just evolves out of the skillset that publisher principals have when they found the company. In many cases, it may not even be apparent where or how they’re lacking.

This article will provide 10 no-nonsense strategies for wargame publishers who want to up their PR game.

10 – Know Yourself

The days of simply being a “Wargame Publisher” are over. Wave goodbye to that notion as we drive deeper into the 21st century.

  • What are your core values as a publisher?
  • How do you select the kinds of games will you publish?
  • In what ways will you distinguish your company from the others?
  • What characteristics of your products will stand out?
  • Why did you decide to publish wargames?

As Simon Sinek says, “Start with Why.”

In short…

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Simon Sinek

Sanity Checkpoint

  1. Write down your “Why” on a sheet of paper.
  2. Go to your website (you have one right?)
  3. Write down all of the places where your why is evident to consumers who may not know your company at all.

This seems like a simple exercise, and it is! The problem that you’re going to run into is that your website is probably extolling the What and How far more frequently than it is showing the Why.

9 – Let your content work for you

PR is not advertising…usually.

In order to share your why, you’re going to have to tell people and demonstrate how that why motivates every part of what you do. As a result, you will need to generate content.

Online Marketing

There are many ways to generate quality content and we’re going to get into a few of those strategies in this article. However, you are always going to be the best person to tell the story of your publishing business. Why? Because you are the person who cares most deeply about its success. After all, you’re the reason it exists and you started it because something deep down drove you to do it!

If you’re not consistently creating some kind of content about your products, then you’re failing to let your content work for you! This might take many forms. Perhaps you’re writing blog articles, designer diaries, social media photo teases of products, retweeting session reports, or the hundreds of other outlets to engage your work before, during and after its release.

Sanity Checkpoint

  1. Search for your latest game on Google
    • Write down how far you had to go to find the first reference to it.
  2. Search social media (BGG, Twitter, Facebook) for your latest game
    • Write down how many instances you found of people talking about it.
  3. Go to your website
    • Write down how many articles, blog posts, photos, or other pieces of content are about your latest game.

What you’re likely to find is that your game results don’t rank all that high on Google. That’s an SEO issue. A part of that is because not enough people are linking to your site or covering your game. Sometimes, that means YOU aren’t covering. That will become apparent when you’re scanning social media (you’re on social media right?) and looking at your website.

So, remember that you need to get the word out, simply adding a game and hoping your fans will find it isn’t good enough. Direct e-mail marketing to just the people who have already found you won’t be sufficient. You put a lot of effort and care into your product, make sure people know about it!

8 – You Are Your Website

For better or worse, you are your website.

This is a pretty simple section and I’m going to give you a quick checklist you can run through to figure out whether your website is working for or against you.

  1. It is easy to find details about products on my website.
  2. Consumers can search my website to find information about my products.
  3. Consumers can easily purchase, or find where to purchase, games from my website.
  4. My website works on mobile and desktop browsers.
  5. There are high quality photos, renderings, and descriptions of my products.
  6. Consumers can find articles and more information about my products easily as links.
  7. It is apparent what my WHY is based on my website.
  8. Consumers can contact me and understand my company policies from reading my website.
  9. Consumers can search for my company name and find me on the first Google results page (preferably near the top).

Sanity Checkpoint

If you are unable to complete any of the tasks above when reviewing your website, then it’s not working for you. There are PLENTY of folks who can help with these tasks, but if you don’t seek help, then the issues will remain obstacles for growing your business.

7 – Be Social

People want to know who the principals are behind their favorite publishers!

Social Media on phone

There are lots of great social media tools and sites available for wargame publishers today. Here are a few you might want to consider being consistently active to build your brand awareness:

  • BoardGameGeek– Participation beyond your product pages is essential. There are great wargames that won’t ever be discovered if wargamers don’t know they exist! I’ve been wargaming for 30 years and there are STILL tons of games I have never seen or heard about.
  • ConSimWorld – John Kranz runs one of the best wargame focused discussion sites in the world. As a result, a lot of wargamers go there to interact with designers, developers and publishers. Consistent participation will get you access to a number of hobby influencers who frequent ConSimWorld.
  • Facebook – Facebook is a thriving place for wargamers. This has grown exponentially with the advent of specific wargame groups and marketplaces that call Facebook home. While I don’t personally like Facebook for a variety of ethical reasons, I fully recognize it’s power as a PR and marketing tool.
  • Twitter – It’s not just for presidents. Much of what I’ve said about Facebook holds true for Twitter. Tools like Hootsuite can centralize your management of both.
  • Instagram, SnapChat, & Others – Social Media platforms typically follow age demographics. As a result, you need to match your WHY and its audience with the appropriate tool.
  • Conventions! – Convention attendance will go a LONG way to building the relationships you want with customers. Not just at the booth, but in games shoulder-to-shoulder with your fans. Let them see you as a person. There are so many cheap (free?) PR opportunities you can engage in at a convention!

If you only post press releases, and product photos then you’re taking the first step. You need to follow-up on that by engaging in conversation and sharing the things you enjoy and like. This helps people find your WHY and to get to know you (and your company) better.

There’s nothing cringier than a publisher that swoops in when there’s trouble and then vanishes once the concern has been dealt with on social media.

Sanity Checkpoint

Count the number of channels (different locations) through which you’re engaging socially with potential customers.

  • 0 – 1 – I would be seriously concerned about the longevity of your company.
  • 2 – 3 – You’re definitely getting out there to get your name and company noticed.
  • 4+ – It’s a lot of work, but you’ve make a great effort to find your customers where they are and to engage them.

Make sure the quality of your engagement is social and business related not just one or the other!

6 – Be Consistent

Consumers have notoriously short memories for marketing. There are maybe 20 TV commercials that stand out over time. Rarely were those commercials shown a single time. Think about ALL the money spent on Superbowl commercials. We remember only a handful, and the ones we are MOST LIKELY to remember are the ones that are part of a multi-year campaign or went viral.

Since wargame publisher content is unlikely to go viral (maybe I’ll be surprised still!), we need to focus on consistency. A good rule to keep in mind is that you want content that speaks to the HEAD, HEART, and HAND.

Head content is all about engaging people intellectually. Maybe you do an article about the history of a game or share the genesis for a design mechanic on a podcast.

Heart content focuses on getting people to feel something. That might be playtester AAR content where their excitement shines through.

Finally, Hand content focuses on activating the sensation of playing the game. In many ways, photo and video content can do this for you. People want to experience the product or get a chance to consider what it might be like.

These content pieces activate different parts of consumer memory. Activating different parts of memory will give your brand some sticking power and help people remember your products.

Sanity Checkpoint

Review your content and see which fits into the head, heart, and hand. Is there a particular type of content you’ve focused on perhaps too much? What about the content type you left out entirely?

5 – Be Responsive

As a result of this, you want to be responsive. Simply talking at your customers isn’t going to work. We’re wired to identify marketing and make quick judgements about it. Consequently, publishers need to find ways to engage to consumers.

If you see a question pop up on a platform you support, the faster and better you respond the bigger impact it will have. That doesn’t just mean to questions, but also to issues.

Short of the hospitality industry, I’ve had some of my best customer service experiences in boardgaming. Publishers go the extra mile in almost every case to make things right for buyers. It stands out when they don’t.

Fist bump

You’ll want to pay close attention and be proactive when trouble is brewing. It’s impossible to ensure everyone will have a good time with the games that are released. It is possible, however, to identify and fix issues that arise. Often, that may mean an expensive fix in the case of botched components or rules. Standing behind the consumer and your products speaks volumes about your commitment to your WHY.

Sanity Checkpoint

Develop a written procedure for handling customer concerns. It should answer questions like:

  • How will I verify the scope of the issue presented?
  • In what ways can I respond to make things right?
  • Have I set aside a small budget (monetary or stock) for fixing issues that arise?
  • How can I publicly respond to reassure others so it doesn’t seem like I’m playing favorites with customers or designers?

The trouble comes when a publisher doesn’t have a clear idea of what their tolerance and limits will be. Consumers can be pushy and unreasonable. Finding a way to communicate a credible and satisfactory response to a problem before it happens that can be replicated later is essential.

4 – Value Feedback

Value the feedback that you receive. While it’s easy to dismiss stakeholder feedback by saying, “only the angry people ever speak up” that belies a deeper issue. This is particularly true if you find yourself saying that frequently! Instead, consider how you can categorize and evaluate the feedback you do receive.

Knowing where to find feedback is also important. This isn’t the movie industry where every major city and small rural community has a reviewer to build a worldwide consensus. Reviewers are most frequently uncompensated non-journalists who are unlikely to spend the time reviewing a game they don’t like.

As a result, you need to look at the social media channels you’ve developed as a key source of your information. What trends do you see? How are you responding both now and with future projects? What are your sales numbers telling you?

Generating Your Own Feedback Loop

Find a way to generate your own feedback loop by engaging with customers. This might be an informal focus group, talking to game clubs periodically that are outside your playtest network, or using any direct email marketing to deploy surveys.

SPI employed this idea well before the Internet. It shouldn’t be too hard to begin building that consumer engagement in the age of the Internet! This is especially true if you include some kind of incentive (even randomly) for participation.

Sanity Check

Analyze your current product in development. In what ways are you incorporating what you’ve learned from stakeholders into the game, its promotion, and post release support?

If you find out that you’re not, don’t make excuses…make a plan for HOW you can do so.

3 – Adopt Your Fans

This goes hand-in-hand with a few of the other strategies in this article. The old saying goes that if you don’t preach to the choir, they stop showing up. That’s absolutely true when it comes to PR.

Find those motivated fans and promote their work. Maybe recruit them to playtest and write about it. You could have them write copy for your site in exchange for discounts. Maybe make one your social media manager if you’re not comfortable with the task. There are a multitude of ways to engage and celebrate your superfans. As a result, they will celebrate you even louder.

Nothing sells better than word of mouth. At that point, it’s just simple math. How do you get your company in the mouths of as many people as possible. Empowering your fans by giving them special access or opportunities is a fantastic way to do it and costs virtually nothing depending on how creative you are.

Sanity Checkpoint

  1. Go online and find the people you think are your fans.
  2. Engage directly with them to foster that relationship.
  3. Find out what they like or don’t like about your company and use that feedback.
  4. Look for creative ways to partner in the creation of content.

A lot of times people are fans who don’t have the bandwidth or inclination to help. They might be cheerleaders who simply aren’t looking for another responsibility. We live hectic lives after all! Instead, find those people who CAN support you and make it worthwhile for both of you!

2 – Know Your Media Outlets

Unless you’re running an already successful publishing business or you have a built-in following, you will need to know your media outlets.

Social media is great, but it’s still YOU selling YOUR products. Consumers, even when a company is trustworthy, expect some third-party coverage to give them information. The information provided is based on the credibility of the media outlet rather than blind faith in the organization’s press release.

Great…but who and how?

We have a lot of different media outlets in boardgaming that should all be aggressively explored by publishers.

  • Blogs – There are many established blogging outlets like The Player’s Aid, The Big Board, and even The Dice Tower (depending on the game)
  • Print Magazines – While C3i from Roger MacGowan covers primarily GMT Games, the magazine has recently begun to branch out. Magazines like Paper Wars, Yaah!, Battles, Against the Odds, and Vae Victis offer EXCELLENT print media outlets to work through.
  • Podcasts – Taking the time to learn how to use Skype is going to be WELL worth the effort. Participating in podcasts, which thrive on providing publisher, designer, and wargaming luminary guest spots are all great ways to get noticed. There’s no harm trying to pitch Harold on Games, Rally in the Valley, Wild Weasel, Wargames to Go, or any of the other podcasts out there!

Sanity Checkpoint

The best time to write a marketing plan was a year ago, the second best time is right now. So, commit to at least 2 of these outlets. Write up a pitch for your next (or current) product and get it over to a broad sample of these outlets. See what they do with it? I think you’ll find a pretty receptive bunch of folks who are eager to share your story.

1 – Use Your Voice

More than any of the advice above, and as you take (or ignore it) please always remember to use your voice. In short, “You Do You!”

Nobody can tell your story like you can. It’s going to be hard to find someone else who cares as deeply about your publishing company as you do. That means whatever voice you choose to represent your publishing company absolutely has to be authentic.

If you portray a stale and dry market-speak all the time, people are going to stop listening. Consumers have become excellent at sniffing out disingenuous responses from companies. As a result, you will need to follow the three H’s of finding your voice:

  • Heartfelt – Your voice needs to be heartfelt. Remember to start with your WHY and let that inform everything else.
  • Honest – There is always room for improvement. Even the largest publishers with decades of wargame publishing experience under their belt demonstrate this regularly. If you HIDE the truth, your lack of honesty will be uncovered and it WILL cost customers.
  • Hustle – Show off how hard you’re working. That doesn’t just mean on games, but also on marketing your company and working to serve your fans. There isn’t a shred of advise in this article that isn’t going to take hard work and hustle to accomplish.

Sanity Checkpoint

For the last sanity checkpoint, as corny as it sounds…strike up a conversation with a person and let them know about your company. Practice makes perfect. As a seasoned public speaker, I am always finding ways to refine my messaging strategy. I find new anecdotes that land and others that fall flat.

Voice is something you need to practice. You might even be surprised by how receptive even non-wargamers are to your work as a wargame publisher! It’s not every day that someone says they do that after all.

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