Why Blacklisting Reporters Always Backfires

Why Blacklisting Reporters Always Backfires

Frustration is a natural byproduct of modern life — for a lot of us, human existence in the 21st century is just an endless, stressful race to the top, and we’re bound to slip over the edge into complete insanity once in a while. One of the first lessons we learn in business, though, is to not let one’s emotions take control; frustrated as you may be, you should be taking time to think about the long-term implications of any outburst. “Will this come back to bite me in the rear?” should be the first question out of your mouth… and if you’re asking yourself that question, you should probably sit on the email, phone call or bar-of-soap-in-a-tube-sock beatings.

So allow me to digress for a moment. Video game PR is a rare breed — up there with the film industry — in that PR reps largely control the media landscape. That’s no secret, of course; most reviews are based on game copies provided by publishers; preview opportunities are usually a valuable commodity exchanged for some sort of premium media placement and are often subject to embargoes that help coverage fall in line with marketing efforts; and countless sites just re-post press releases verbatim. This is a gross generalization, I realize, as there are a lot of great sites and journalists out there that go the extra mile to generate original content that wasn’t pushed by a PR rep — coincidentally a lot of these guys came from a traditional journalism background. But largely, it’s the publishers that determine where and when their games get coverage, and in almost all cases the coverage is closely controlled to be positive.

The seedy underbelly of the games industry exposes itself. When a journalist goes rebels and does something as recklessly disrespectful and anti-gaming as to write a negative article about a game or publisher, a lot of PR reps and executives forget that golden rule and do something so unimaginably dumb in times of duress that I just can’t wrap my head around it: They put that journalist on their blacklist. This list may not actually exist as such — I’d love to meet a PR rep ballsy enough to have a Games_PR_Blacklist.xls file on his or her desktop — but at the very least it’s a big mental note that said journalist is to never, ever (EVER) be treated like a real human being so long as he lives. Forget about review copies, forget about invites to E3 demos, forget about the lavish press tour and accompanying open bar, etc.

While not always the case, most blacklisting is decreed from high up in the corporate structure, not from the PR team. After all, it’s the PR team’s job to get as much coverage as possible — big, positive coverage, of course — while ensuring that journalists love them and their company/client. When your intimidating, power-tripping, fancy-car-driving boss comes running into your office yelling, “How the heck did you let this happen?! You’ll pay for this!” after a not-so-flattering review, it might seem like an affront to common sense to look him in the eye and say, “you know, I worked really hard on this campaign, really respect my relationship with this journalist and feel he makes some good points about our crappy game, so please stay out of my business.” That’s really what the reaction should be, though.

About Tom Ohle
Tom’s been promoting games and tech for years, having managed PR, marketing and community campaigns for firms like BioWare, 2K Games, Atari, Microsoft and more. He currently holds executive roles at Evolve PR, GOG.com, CD Projekt RED and Empire Avenue.

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