MEDIA: PC SOFTWARE - Media Roundup. Window of opportunity narrowsfor software stories

Technological advancements in computers have become so commonplace,

the media has become almost oblivious. David Ward discusses what it

takes to get the media to cover PC software today.

In the space of about 15 years, the personal computer has gone from a

revolutionary machine worthy of reams of news coverage, to a household

appliance taken for granted by most of its users. Yes, PCs are still

being used on a daily - if not hourly - basis by millions of Americans.

But the gee-whiz factor is gone, and with it went much of the media


Nowhere is this more apparent than the coverage of PC software. Many of

the reporters that used to focus on the latest PC game, word processing

software, or operating systems have now turned their attention to

monitoring the internet's evolution or touting the latest wireless


This reduced interest in PC software stories has been exacerbated by the

current economic climate, which hit tech journalism hard. The result is

that magazines such as Incite PC Games, Gamer's Republic, Family PC,

Home PC, and websites like Happy Puppy and Daily Radar have all shut

their doors in the past 18 months. In addition, some major newspapers

and magazines like Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly are cutting down on

coverage, or folding their multimedia/technology sections back into the

main pages.

"Changes in the marketplace have reduced the amount of places you can

get coverage," says Bill Linn, president of San Francisco-based Linn


"That said, while a lot of doors have closed, some others are


FHM, Maxim, Gear, and Stuff now have regular columns, and TV Guide is on

its second round of coverage of the game industry within the past


PC software - and PC software journalism - can be divided into two

categories: entertainment (primarily games), and the more practical

utility products (such as word processing and CD-burning products).

The holy grail for PR professionals pitching PC game stories is the

cover of outlets such as Computer Gaming World, PC Gamer, and Computer


Linn says the competition for these coveted spots is so fierce, he often

reaches out to key editors 12-16 months before the game reaches


"The earlier you're in the process, the more you're trying to endear the

editor to the person who is making the game, because that relationship

is really the difference between a small story and a large story," he


One distinguishing feature about PC game reporters is that many are

rabid fans of the products they write about, and they pride themselves

on being gamers first and journalists second. While this means the

standard rules of journalism don't always apply, Switzer Communications

director Kristin Greene points out, "It makes it exciting for us as PR

professionals to work with journalists who are really passionate about

what they're covering."

Software journalism is serious business

But PC software journalism is more than just fun and games. There's also

a host of reporters who cover more practical products that help PC users

do everything from plan their family budgets to burn a CD. Bender Helper

Impact SVP Steve Honig says coverage of these utility PC titles is

usually handled by technology generalists, who may be reviewing the

latest mp3 player or cellular phone at the same time.

Honig, who represents Roxio and its Easy CD Creator software, says there

are a number of challenges when pitching reporters writing product

reviews, including ensuring they have the right PC specifications for

the software, and that they are taking time to truly understand the

product before writing about it. "It's all about being able to have your

software product reviewed accurately," he says. "Some reporters make

negative comments about a product that they have only looked at for half

an hour."

Sue Bohle, founder of LA-based The Bohle Company, points out that many

of the reporters who cover PC utility software are veterans wary of

over-exaggerated product claims, and that they know the difference

between the updated version of existing software and an entirely new


"What we're seeing is that reporters are no longer interested in what we

used to call updates or new features. So companies are rebranding these

new versions as new products in order to get major coverage," she


"We've had many editors ask us, 'Is this truly a new product or is this

an upgrade?' and you have to be able to speak to that question with

every call you make."

Who's covering the industry?

Among the most influential reporters covering PC game software are Marc

Saltzman, who is syndicated through Gannett News Service, Mike Snider of

USA Today, Aaron Curtis of the Los Angeles Times, and N'Gai Croal of


There are also columnists such as The Wall Street Journal's Walter

Mossberg and Steven Wildstrom of Business Week, who review new personal

technologies that can include PC software, and whose opinions have in

the past made or broken companies. On the business side of PC software,

the leading reporters are Dean Takahashi of Red Herring, and Khan Tran

of The Wall Street Journal.

There are few women-oriented media outlets willing to devote space to

either PC entertainment or utility software products. "I've done three

outreaches to women's magazines in the last six months - everybody from

Elle and Seventeen on down - and after the third try with some of the

most women-oriented games, I couldn't even get them to return phone

calls," says Linn.

And even some the men's outlets that cover PC software don't always use

staffers. "We definitely try to reach out to freelancers, because more

often than not, they're the ones who get us into the publications we

want to hit, especially the lifestyle outlets," says Stone Chin, an

Edelman account exec who represents Microsoft's PC games division.

There are the handful of occasions when PC software becomes a front-page

story, such as when it was revealed that in Microsoft's Flight Simulator

software, one can fly a plane into the World Trade Center. Chin says

Edelman did some crisis management in response to inquiries as to

whether the game could be a training tool for terrorists, though he

claims that most of that interest quickly subsided.

But there is also the opportunity for PC software companies to interject

themselves into "good news" stories. Switzer's Greene, who represents

Lego Media, was able to piggyback on the recent release of Harry Potter

and the Sorcerer's Stone. Lego Media has a PC software title, Lego

Creator - Harry Potter, based on the book license.

"In addition to tried-and-true reviewers and holiday buying guides, the

week of the movie release we did a quick and very targeted broadcast

outreach where we called assignment desks, looking for stories they

could do during the movie's launch week," she says. The campaign

resulted in b-roll of the game being aired on TV stations in Phoenix,

Detroit, San Francisco, and other key markets as part of a

Potter-mania-themed story.


NEWSPAPERS: USA Today; The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; Los

Angeles Times; San Jose Mercury News

MAGAZINES: Maxim; Stuff; FHM; Gear; Newsweek; Time; Playboy; PC Gamer;

Computer Gaming World; Computer Games; Next Generation; Game Informer;

PC Magazine; PC World; Computer Shopper; regional and national parenting

magazines (for children's and educational software)

TRADE TITLES: IE (Interactive Entertainment) magazine; Game


TELEVISION: TechTV; Electric Playground (Discovery Channel); NPR


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