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PR has always been a tough industry. At the end of the day, PR firms are in the business of selling stories in a world filled with stories.
But PR firms aren't without tools that can help their clients stand out. One: free product.
Thanks in large part to the rise of the internet, the 'review' is now ubiquitous. From cars to clothes, software to scuba gear, one of the best ways to get journalists, bloggers and other 'influencers' to write about a client's new product is to give that product to them gratis when it's brand new, or -- even better -- before it's available to the public.
That shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, who wouldn't want the privilege of trying the latest and greatest for free, oftentimes before you can buy it in stores?
In some industries, letting influential publishers and individuals review products before they make their public debut is the norm. That's certainly the case in the highly-competitive, and highly-lucrative, video game industry.
This industry, like so many others, has an interesting dynamic at work. PR firms, who are tasked with boosting the media profiles of their clients' soon-to-be-released products, have an awkward marriage of sorts with influencers, who can maintain and increase their influence by giving the public sneak peeks of those new products.
Obviously, a potential conflict exists here: the PR firms need good press, but the influencers only need the ability to review new product. So there's an unspoken rule that's not always enforced, or enforced the same way: you have to be careful what you say in your reviews. A little criticism might be okay, but go too far and you could be blackballed.
One PR firm, however, The Redner Group, took this unspoken rule and spoke it in the most public way possible: Twitter. In a tweet responding to harsh reviews of Duke Nukem Forever, the firm put reviewers on notice:
#AlwaysBetOnDuke 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
This tweet was, obviously, a huge mistake. According to Ars Technica, 2K Games, the maker of Duke Nukem Forever, has dropped The Redner Group.
That should send a strong message to PR firms: unspoken rules are best left unspoken.
Obviously, there are still reviewers out there who will 'play by the rules,' and there are plenty of individuals who would welcome the opportunity to play by the rules to be a part of the PR industry's 'inner circle.'
But even so, PR firms shouldn't delude themselves into believing that they have enough leverage to aggressively 'blackmail' those in the mediasphere whom they court. In many cases, it's the other side that has the power today.
After all, nothing is better for pageviews than a story revealing how some foolish PR firm tried to tell you what to do. PR firms shouldn't forget that.