Each year, momentum in the multi-billion dollar video game industry builds toward a media crescendo at E3 – the industry’s biggest and most important event. In 2009, Xbox saw E3 as a turning point and a huge opportunity—the chance to show the world that Xbox 360 is the future of interactive entertainment. The Xbox 360 PR team took advantage of the opportunity, and delivered a massive keynote in front of thousands of media (more than 2,000 print journalists and more than 100 broadcast cameras) complete with celebrity appearances (e.g., Paul McCartney, Steven Spielberg) and groundbreaking announcements – unveiling revolutionary technology in “Project Natal” and groundbreaking partnerships with Facebook and Twitter. “Project Natal” is a unique sensor technology that allows you to control what’s on the screen with the movement of your body – shoot a basket, kick a goal, turn a page, smile, or talk – without using a standard game controller. Thanks to strategic PR planning and execution at E3 2009, Microsoft was able to surpass enormous expectations, shatter media coverage records and above all – build excitement around the globe for the future of entertainment, available only on Xbox 360.
An event this size and scope requires meticulous organization. Planning began in January of 2009, when more than 20 virtual teams were developed to build strategy, predict competitive plans and orchestrate logistics. Execution leads were identified to oversee crucial elements, including storytelling, analyst strategy, broadcast, press releases, media scheduling and the keynote itself – among many others. To analyze past successes and opportunities for improvement, teams poured over media coverage and videos from prior E3 events as well as analyst comments about our recent efforts and those of our competitors. Regular communication with media, analysts and the ESA (E3 host organization) leading up to E3 allowed us to fully understand the industry’s expectations for the event so we could build and adjust plans accordingly. Early work was done to identify the most influential voices in the social core, to seed online conversations and to draw in the most highly-active individuals on Twitter as E3 progressed.
Target audiences identified through extensive research included:
• Traditional gaming core – full-time gamers (I play games to satisfy my thirst for gaming) and social gamers (I love playing games with friends and family)
• Broader consumer audiences – potential/new gamers (I’d play games if only…) and “family timers” (If it involves more family time, I’m in)
• Online influencers – “hyper socials” within and beyond the gaming industry (those who are furiously active/influential online)
• Industry leaders – both in the traditional video game and broader entertainment industries, as the two become more intertwined.
To deliver news to each of these segments, PR utilized the following appropriate media/groups:
• Broadcast outlets helped us elevate our news to all audiences with a global stage.
• Worldwide games outlets influenced the core gamers – the traditional video game console audience.
• Consumer/entertainment outlets delivered our news to consumers outside the core gaming audience.
• Through business outlets we positioned Xbox executives as thought leaders on the pages and screens viewed by influencers in the gaming and entertainment industries.
• We engaged highly active social media influencers at E3 to expand dialogue into online channels.
• Working with industry analysts, we secured a wide range of third-party references.
To prepare for this unparalleled E3 presence, PR established the following guiding principles for 2009:
• Lead the show. Go out first with big news and an unexpected, entertainment-filled keynote that would get people talking
• Convince global media that Xbox 360 is the future of interactive entertainment
• Satiate the core gaming audience while demonstrating our continued commitment to broaden the appeal of Xbox 360
With the framework of the above guiding principles in mind, the PR team developed the following measureable objectives:
• Dominate “day 1” coverage at E3, overshadowing top competitors by receiving more news coverage than Sony and Nintendo
• Within consumer media, exceed 2008 broadcast coverage by 50 percent
• Within enthusiast (gaming) media, exceed 2008 enthusiast coverage by 25 percent
• Obtain significant coverage in eight top tier business outlets and secure at least three “signature” stories within business press
• During the course of E3, rank among top five Twitter trends
• Tell a compelling story that will resonate with mainstream consumer media while also satiating the gaming core
• Paint a compelling vision for the future of digital entertainment with Xbox 360
• Take people through an emotional journey of the Xbox 360 world
• Surprise and delight all audiences by saving big news and hands-on with big games until E3
• Seeing is believing. Talk less. Let the experiences sell themselves. Drive excitement by providing visuals and hands-on gameplay
• Bring the brand to life
The PR components of the Xbox 360 presence at E3 2009 were executed with a budget of: $500,000 over the course of six months.
Analyst and Media Tour: Prior to the event, we embarked on a tour (under embargo) to give our highest-tier contacts a preview of our E3 news, which helped assure curtain-raiser stories in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, The New York Times and others.
Press Briefing/Keynote: Major announcements were revealed to thousands and broadcast globally. Successful PR strategy/execution, celebrity appearances and visual assets fed simultaneously with on-site media interviews allowed Xbox 360 to make waves around the world.
Press Reception: Using an orchestrated flow of events, our press event at The Standard Hotel allowed attendees to get hands-on with Xbox 360 games, mingle with industry influencers and experience “Project Natal” exclusively.
Satellite/Radio Media Tour: Spokesperson availability for live interviews helped drive enthusiasm for the announcements.
E3 Show Floor: Media and influencers experienced the newest offerings from Xbox 360 and behind-closed-doors demos. Microsoft spokespeople met with a flood of hundreds of reporters/editors and analysts over three days.
Social media: Exclusive sneak peeks of “Project Natal” for media and celebrities built significant social currency and compelled influencers to post about their experiences online. Video content of celebrities experiencing “Project Natal” coupled with outreach to lifestyle blogs increased online buzz.
Snapshot of media success at E3:
• More than 9,100 global print, online and broadcast placements. This was close to triple the 3,137 global placements Xbox achieved in 2008.
• Xbox 360 received more standalone coverage than the main competition (PlayStation 3 and Wii) combined.
• Our proactive broadcast efforts accounted for roughly 17 percent of the total coverage of the show, reaching an audience of more than 100 million in the U.S. alone during the week of E3.
A closer look at our successes as compared to some of our established goals:
• Goal: Exceed 2008 broadcast coverage by 50 percent
o Achievement: Exceeded by 592 percent
• Goal: Exceed 2008 enthusiast coverage by 25 percent
o Achievement: Exceeded by 171 percent
• Goal: Obtain coverage in eight top tier business outlets
o Achievement: Coverage in 38 top tier business outlets
• Goal: Secure at least three “signature” stories within business press
o Achievement: Secured eight signature stories within business press
• Goal: Rank among top five Twitter trends
o Achievement: Third-highest ranked Twitter trend
• Goal: 300k views of “Project Natal” Web site
o Achievement: 825k views in one week