There is little doubt that advertising, reviews, and recognition in the marketplace are vital to the success of any title. Typically marketing is the responsibility of the publisher. However, more and more games are being produced independently and are in need of at least some of the exposure the major titles enjoy. In many cases it’s possible to get recognition on a grassroots level. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and there is a growing development community that reviews and recommends game products. In most cases this is more than enough to get exposure for independent projects by individuals and small collaborative groups.
However, taking your game to the next level may require you to seek professional help. To that end, if you can’t afford to employ a marketing guy outright, you may consider hiring a public relations or marketing firm. This entry will provide a (very) general idea of what these firms do, but more importantly it will discuss what goes into the agreement/contract you will have to sign when you engage one of these firms. It will also cover some of the things that should be in the contract to protect your own interests. Often these terms are only conspicuous in their absence, so unless you know what to look for you may find yourself with an out-of-control bill and little oversight over what this firm is doing for you.
What do Marketing and PR firms do?
A good marketing firm will evaluate your product and come up with the most effective strategy to expose your product to the broadest market in the best light. Doing this involves creating a project proposal that explains the demographic(s) targeted, what tools and materials the firm feels will best reach that audience, and the media outlets that the firm has access to that can reach that audience. A PR firm usually focuses on “free” exposure, such as media publications, press releases, and other opportunities to improve you or your product’s reputation in the marketplace. In some ways public relations could be viewed as a subset of marketing—marketing is more generally related to creating the brand and influencing how that brand is received by the public. PR involves improving the image and reputation of that brand.
What’s in the Agreement?
The agreements will differ depending on what you’re buying. Generally the Agreement (typically a “Consulting Agreement” but sometimes an engagement letter or “Marketing Agreement”) comes in two parts: the contract and the project proposal, which outlines some of what I stated above and usually a great deal more.
In almost all cases the contract will be for “consulting services” related to public relations and/or marketing. This should tell you two things—one, the firm you’re hiring is an independent contractor, and two, you will be on the hook for all or almost all expenses relating to the production of marketing material. Most firms charge a monthly “basic fee” for the consulting services alone. This usually doesn’t include any out-of-pocket, vendor, or third party contractor fees or expenses. Some things to look out for (by no means all-inclusive):
- The right to approve expenditures, including anticipated costs, fees, and expenses, including but not limited to out-of-pocket and third party vendor/contractor fees. Approval should be sought in writing and should only be given in writing. The sum approved and precisely for what should be carefully documented and kept for your files.
- The right to approve or change the project proposal.
- Costs resulting from delays caused by the marketing/PR firm are the sole responsibility of the firm—if the project exceeds the projected timeframe for completion because of negligence or inappropriate conduct by the firm, the firm should be on the hook for all late fees and expenses resulting from the delay—this includes overtime for third party vendors, etc. Don’t worry. It is very likely that the firm will ask for the same for you, in the event that delays are your fault.
- Retention of all IP rights: generally this will already be in the agreement, but if it isn’t, make sure to have it included. You want to make sure you not only retain all of your original trademarks and copyrights, but you want to make it clear that you are the owner of any trademarks and copyrights resulting from the project. You want to also make sure that the firm will warrant that no third party contractors will have a claim or stake in the resulting IP. As it is usually the firm that procures those contractors, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a copy of their form IC agreement.
- Limited trademark license: The firm needs the right to use your trademark if they are going to produce anything for you. A trademark license that may be sublicensed to third parties but that is limited to use in connection with/for the benefit of the project should protect you from any unlawful uses or reproductions. The firm may ask for the right to use the mark in connection with its own marketing materials (e.g., the “clients” page of its website).
- NDA/Confidentiality. This should include any information you provide to the firm and any market data, surveys, or results the firm obtains by its own efforts in connection with the project and your product.
The Project Proposal
At a minimum, the project proposal should include an itemized projection of anticipated costs and when/how frequently those costs will be incurred. More importantly, you should know why you’re incurring those costs. This is why you will want the right to change the project proposal and the right to approve expenses—in some cases they may include something that you can already provide for free or at a lesser cost.
Choosing the right firm comes down to reputation and actual prior results. Do your homework and make sure the firm or individual you’re considering has experience in your industry and with your type of product. As “picking the right marketing firm” is outside the purview of this blog I’ll defer to the myriad of advice pages on that question.