Profile: Robert Saunders, head of comms, Nintendo UK

The head of comms at Nintendo is busy preparing for the launch of the firm's 3DS console. Peter Hay reports.

Nintendo UK head of comms: Robert Saunders
Nintendo UK head of comms: Robert Saunders

Robert Saunders goes almost completely unnoticed by passers-by in the lobby where the PRWeek photo-shoot is taking place. Instead, all eyes are on his companion, birthday boy Mario. Despite this being his opportunity to shine, Saunders, 31, seems to take comfort from staying out of the limelight.

Nintendo's flagship icon turned 25 this year and was the inspiration for Saunders' career in the gaming industry, when he first played Super Mario Bros 3 at the tender age of 12.

Saunders believes it is the content of games, including characters such as Mario, that is key to a gaming company's success. 'You can have the shiniest new hardware, but it's about compelling software that people really want to play; a platform will live or die by that,' he says.

The self-confessed avid gamer has been at Nintendo since 2004. He joined as PR manager at the age of just 25, although he had previously worked at the company as an intern while he was at Cardiff University.

His six years at the firm have coincided with a golden time for the brand, with the launches of both the handheld DS and the enormously popular family console Wii.

This success can be attributed, in part, to the uniqueness of Wii's motion- control technology at the time.

But the brand is no longer unique in the market. It now faces a serious threat after the birth of rival consoles Move, from PlayStation, and Kinect, from Xbox, launched last month. The latter can pick up on the motion of the whole body rather than just a remote control.

Saunders insists he is unconcerned, instead insisting that Nintendo is pushing forward to the next stage of its technological development. He explains: 'We have already had motion gaming in the market for five years, so we are looking towards new technology, which for us will be 3D and handheld.'

This will come in the form of the Nintendo 3DS, which is set to launch in March and requires no additional 3D glasses, instead relying on its cutting-edge screen.

Perhaps Saunders' confidence in seeing out the potential threat is a result of his experience.

Nintendo has not always been at the top of its game. After major success with the early Super Mario titles and the NES and SNES consoles, the entertainment firm seemed to lose its way, and its profile, following the launch of the Game Cube.

It was at this point that Saunders joined Nintendo and had to revive the company's reputation as a leading games manufacturer.

'A lot of journalists did not know we existed and thought we were making software for other games companies,' he says. 'When I first took on the role, there was a great deal of flag waving involved.'

While Saunders is happy to wave the flag for his brand, he is less forthcoming about himself. He plays down the speed at which he has accelerated through the company's ranks.

But others are happy to praise his efficient and effective approach. GamesRadar editor Matt Cundy says: 'Nintendo outsources a lot of its PR, but if we need something from it directly, Rob is the go-to man. He's always been very good and gets back to us quickly if we have any requests.'

'Rob certainly keeps us on our toes,' says Steve Marinker, director at Nintendo's retained agency Bell Pottinger. 'With Nintendo, you have to work at a very fast pace and keep your eye both on day-to-day delivery and the bigger picture. Rob's ability to keep both the tactical and strategic plates spinning at the same time is remarkable.'

The proof of this efficiency appears in the figures, with about one in three UK households owning a Wii, but Saunders is not resting on his laurels.

He wants to encourage everyone to play Nintendo's games.

'We see our major competitors as time and apathy. They are the biggest barriers to people playing games, so we are really trying to focus on breaking these barriers down,' he says.

Aside from the sales figures and serious technological developments, Saunders says 'at Nintendo, we're all about fun'.

He adds: 'I believe in the past our industry has been guilty of taking itself too seriously, being a bit cool for school. Our mission is to make people smile. Everything we do is about making people smile.'

And with the jolly Mario leading the Nintendo charge, it is hard not to do just that.


Robert Saunders' turning points

- What was your biggest career break?

Undoubtedly landing my current role at Nintendo. The people I have worked with, the opportunities given to me and experience I have gained have all been incredible. I've been very lucky.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

I have never had a 'mentor' per se, however Dave Pittman, MD at Vital Publicity and ex-head of PR at Virgin Records, taught me right from the off the absolute importance of media and journalist relations. My current boss at Nintendo, Dawn Paine, has also been an incredible influence.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Surround yourself and work with brilliant people and teams, and don't be afraid of people who are better than you. Work with people who will push and challenge you every day, and constantly push yourself to work outside of your comfort zone.

- What do you prize in new recruits?

The ability to create strong relationships with journalists and internal and external stakeholders. The ability to pitch well and talk to media confidently. These are what I see as basic PR skills.



2010: Head of comms, Nintendo UK

2007: Senior PR manager, Nintendo UK

2004: PR manager, Nintendo UK

2002: Senior account executive, Consolidated Communications

2001: Press officer, Vital Publicity

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