We had a request that we talk a bit about getting into the industry on the PR/Marketing side, and since it’s a question that I get asked quite a bit, I thought I’d take a shot at it.
First, let me suggest a career as a pinata. The pay is probably a little better, the day-to-day routine is roughly the same (I found the pinata gig slightly less painful, with fewer bruises, but your results may vary), and there’s candy. So, it has a lot going for it and I urge you to look into it. If, however, you find the idea of working with games is even better than being filled with candy, I’ll offer what insights I can.
As I tell everyone who has emailed me on this, there isn’t any one way to get into this business, regardless of what it is you want to do…programmer, designer, pr manager, whatever. Seneca, a Roman Philosopher, once said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. So getting into games is a lot about luck, but you can learn to make your own luck. Put yourself in a position to be at the right place at the right time and have the kind of skills someone is looking to hire (like me, since I’m still hiring).
I had a couple of full-time jobs working for the American College of Cardiology and the American Association of Blood Banks…not exactly a straight line from those gigs to Bethesda. But, I did also have a part-time job as a writer for The Adrenaline Vault for three or four years when I managed to sign on with them fairly early on, and it was a great chance to get even more involved with gaming, play a lot of stuff, work with people in the industry at various companies, and so on.
Quite a few folks from that site alone are now working for game companies, including Emil. I think it’s great experience, and I work with and know an awful lot of people that got their start on the journo side of things. It gives you the chance to show that you know about games, can breakdown why a game is good, or isn’t, and make good arguments and give compelling reasons. Or that you can ask smart questions, or that you can write worth a damn and get your message across to the reader, or can act like a professional, or be insane/creative in a way that sets you apart like Ben Croshaw or Tycho and Gabe.
Now, it’s easy to say you want to run a game site, or work for one, or even write a blog. Anyone can do that, really. Blogs are easy to start. Keep in mind that I had spent most of my college career and 5 or 6 years in a full-time job doing a lot of writing of all kinds and getting better at it before I ever wrote a game preview/review. Working at AVault only helped that process, but it didn’t start it (which isn’t to say it can’t start there for you). Anything you can do to improve your communication skills is a big help in this line of work. In college I was a DJ for a time at the college radio station, I did color commentary for a year for the women’s basketball team radio broadcasts, was the PA announcer for men’s soccer, helped write press materials and team programs…I even did research work on the side for a finance professor.
Even though I did most of those things because I loved sports, what I ended up getting was a ton of practice at writing, public speaking, press relations, talking to people one-on-one or in groups, and things it turned out I really enjoyed doing. What you may be doing in any given job in this industry can vary, but suffice it to say you’re always going to be doing a lot of communicating: talking to people, presenting to people (internal, external, or both), coming up with creative ideas, writing, editing and much more. Lots of writing. Always lots of writing.
Writing a manual, a press release, a fact sheet, an email, a blog…all of those are all very different, and all take time practice, or experience, or both. Any chance you get to try any of those things in some capacity is worth pursing if this is something you really want to do. Those opportunities are always out there, you’ve got to go find them and be persistent if that’s what you want to get into…write for the school paper (Matt used to do game reviews at Michigan for their school paper), work on the yearbook, volunteer to help in a press office for your university, or in someone’s office.
If you can find something like that you’re interested in, even if you do it for free, the experience can be invaluable and it gives you something to build on. And, while we’re sort of on the subject, yes, going to college/university and getting a degree helps. Not because I really need you to learn what they teach you in English 302 or Marketing 101, but because going to a decent school and sticking it out to get your degree is a bit of a rite of passage. Shows that you can accomplish something, even if you party a lot while you’re doing it. And like design or programming or art, you can be really good at PR and/or marketing without studying it in school, but school is almost always a really good idea.
The last thing I’ll say is that you can get into doing PR and Marketing using the same sort of approach that Ash has talked about in his articles on getting into the industry, like this one on being a designer. Modders get hired all the time to do any number of things. Forum moderators have gone on to work for companies, as have folks that run fan sites. I know marketing and public relations execs at big companies that started off in QA.
It’s really the same thing as I mentioned before: can you take advantage of the time in front of a company to show you’re someone they should bring on board? It’s not about toeing a company line or being a kiss-ass. For example, we didn’t hire Gavin, who ran one of our biggest Morrowind fan sites for a while, because he liked us and liked our games. We hired him because in dealing with him we got the impression that he was a pretty smart guy (maybe “pretty” is too strong a word here…fairly? somewhat? sorta?), hard working, professional, good guy, had potential to do good Forza paint jobs for us…stuff like that. Whether that impression actually pans out is still under review at this point (only kidding Gav).
So there’s my thoughts on how you might go about getting in the game to do PR/Marketing stuff. No magic bullet, no big secrets, but I hope it helps. If not, there’s always the pinata thing.