[“This Thing That I Do” is a feature on Destructoid where I interview people who work in the gaming industry or people who have achieved something noteworthy to give us some insight into how it all works.]
The world of PR has always interested me and the more I work with Destructoid, the more insight I get. The job is one that will always be hugely demanding, with the ultimate goal to get as much amazing press for whichever title they happen to be work on that day. At the same time, PR is a hugely popular entry point into the industry for many gamers, and that’s what led me to this interview.
Alex Verrey, Global PR and Communications Manager for Mad Catz, was one of the most amazing PR people I have ever met. The man is the perfect PR representative — well informed, kind, funny, and with more passion for this industry than you can shake a stick at, and this made him the most perfect person to approach for this interview. Bloggers, journalists, and camera teams flock to him, and clearly I was no exception.
Alex, lets start by keeping it simple, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into gaming
“Alrighty, I’m 33 years old, a true hardcore gamer at heart, and a guy genuinely passionate about our industry. As well as video games, my other passion in life is performing and I started my career as a TV presenter where I presented a series of popular video game shows in the UK under the name ‘Big Boy Barry’ which those with very long memories may just remember. There’s loads of footage of me knocking about YouTube for those with way too much time on their hands…”
When you and I have done interviews in the past, many people have recognized you from the hugely popular Sky One programme Games World. Was this your first entrance into the games industry and was it intentional, or had you never even considered working in the games industry?
“Yeah, that’s right. In PR the nature of your work means that you operate ‘behind the scenes’ but a surprising amount of gamers and industry folk still recognize me as BBB. That’s cool though, I’m totally proud of my TV work and actually pinning for a comeback! GamesWorld was technically my second taste of the industry, I first appeared on the second ever episode of the TV show ‘GamesMaster’ playing a challenge on the original Sonic the Hedgehog. I think I was like 13 at the time. A few months later, the production team called me and explained they were planning a new show for Sky One called GamesWorld and were looking for resident champions to appear on air. Once thing obviously led to another and Big Boy Barry was born. I guess the character kinda’ resonated as they offered me my own spin off show the following year with David Walliams appearing as my sidekick. That was cool, all before I was 17 and all totally unplanned. Life can throw up all kinds of surprises when you’re just not looking! So there we go. I remained in TV full time for years and years but usually appearing in shows related to games. Realising that TV work is fun but damn unpredictable, I was offered a chance to do a few days freelance PR by an old industry buddy, and, well, that was 7 years ago and those’ few days’ still haven’t come to an end I guess!”
Now you currently you work for Mad Catz as their Global Public Relations and Communications Manager. Tell us, what is Public Relations and what is a typical day for you at Mad Catz?
“I still smile at my official job title. It’s gloriously long ain’t it?! Public Relations can mean many things, but in short, my job means that I’m the contact or ‘go between’ for the company and the media. When you read news or a review of a game (or in my case one of our accessories), a journalist will usually have obtained the game, images and information directly from the company PR contact. We are the guys who promote the games or accessories to the media either in person or via trade shows. We write press releases (Official names for documents which explain or ‘hype’ the game or product in question) and we then work with the media (be it TV, magazine, Radio, etc) to make sure we get our game or product seen everywhere. Most of us in video game PR take time to visit gaming journalists and demo the game or product in person; it’s all part of the job and one which can be incredibly varied. In my case, the word ‘Global’ refers to the fact that even though I’m based in the UK, I’m in charge of promoting Mad Catz and our various brands everywhere in the world, so the first half of my day will have me dealing with media from around Europe and then at around 5pm, I start getting hundreds of emails from the US. It can be pretty intense but I love it. I spend a lot of time traveling also as you Hollie can verify! In June I was at E3, in August I demonstrated our new Rock Band gear for Hollie in Germany for GamesCom and then saw her a few weeks later in Seattle where I showed off our new Call of Duty ProGaming Headsets!”
Now we all know that being in PR means you get to deal with us lot; the gaming press, bloggers, journos, or whatever you want to call us. What is it like working with such a huge group of people and what kind of relationships do you look to build?
“For the most part it’s great. Our industry can at times be very incestuous; I’ve known many of my fellow PR colleagues and various journalists for literally years. Most of us work in the industry because we love games and once we are in the business, few of us want to leave again so I can honestly say that I have built up many, many close friends from all sectors of our industry. Like all walks of life, a few bad apples can spoil things for everyone else. There are a few notorious industry figures that every PR knows and always has a headache dealing with. Some people are rude, others unscrupulous, but where possible we all try to get along and respect that we have jobs to do and are all passionate about the very reason we’re here! I tend to think it’s about being a good judge of character. Some of the journalists I deal with are friends (I even went to school with one well known editor), so these relationships are based in friendship more than anything else. Others you can get on very well with but always mindful of the fact that the relationship is based in business and others still may be journo’s you’ve never met before so the relationship changes again to one of a more professional manner. It’s all about knowing your audience and being able to adapt with ease.”
A lot of people see PR as the people who give out ‘free shit’ such as games. Do you get a lot of people ‘taking the piss,’ as it were, and expecting to be given freebies? How do you react to people like that?
“Yeah, I think we touched on that in one of the stories above. I find it personally interesting how quickly our industry changes. When I first started doing PR, the vast majority of journalists were working for the specialist press (Gaming mags), nowadays, the web is by far the biggest source of coverage. Hundreds of enterprising young gamers email me daily asking for samples (Free sh*t) and promising me ‘substantial coverage’ in return. Frankly, you can hardly blame them; it works for a lot of these one-kid-bedroom-websites. Part of my job is working out the genuine media big boys from those after a freebie. Usually, it’s pretty easy to spot when someone is taking the pi**, as soon as you start asking the tough questions, they usually back off. Now, journalists are different. It does grate when you get the same guys turning to you again and again asking for free gear and making lame promises of coverage which never appears. Most of my contacts are honest and rightly so. Sometimes they ask for a freebie because they think your product is cool. I would much rather that than they insult my intelligence and ask for gear under the pretence of coverage which we all know will never materialise. Those guys usually get a flat “NO” from me….”
What is one of the best benefits to working in PR? What are some of your favorite things you have seen, done or even do as a PR for Mad Catz?
“Are you kidding?! The job is hard but it’s always varied and usually pretty cool. I’m still a gamer and love that I get to travel the world, meet great people and get to go to the cool trade shows like E3, PAX and GamesCom. Not only do I get to see the new games but Mad Catz often work with the publishers to make the official accessories (Like Call of Duty, Rock Band, Street Fighter etc) which means we get to work with the publishers and with their PR guys also. Our industry knows how to throw the coolest parties which are always fun (One year you’re in the front row watching ”The Who” perform in LA for the Rock Band 2 launch and the next you have tickets to watch the bizarrely entertaining ‘Cirque Du Soleir’ unveiling for Kinect! I remember for one E3, I arranged for myself and 20 UK journalists to sit in the front row at Manns Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for the first showing of Star Wars Phantom Menace. The movie was kinda’ horrible but that was one pretty cool night. Next I’m off to Vegas in January for CES so I can only image what shenanigans I’m letting myself in for…”
Finally, what kind of skills do you think people need to go into PR and what advice would you give anyone who wants to working PR in the games industry?
“I think in all forms of PR it’s vital to be a good communicator and have a natural grasp of the English language. A lot of gaming journalists go into PR as they already possess the ability to articulate what they like or don’t like about gaming. Next, it goes without saying but it’s important to actually have an interest in what you’re working on. You’d be surprised at how many PR’s I’ve met who don’t really ‘get’ what they’re working on and it never, ever works. The gaming media and the gaming public are way too smart and always see though a PR representative who doesn’t truly understand their product. So, be enthusiastic, have a genuine love of games, be chatty, quick witted and good at English and you stand a pretty good choice of getting a break. Of course, a fair degree of luck doesn’t hurt either!”