David Tinson, the head of the integrated communications team at Electronic Arts, sat down with TRUE to discuss how he was spreading his newsroom philosophy throughout the Redwood City, California-based company. FleishmanHillard’s Mitch Germann in San Francisco conducted the interview.
Q: When you implemented the newsroom philosophy at EA Sports, what did you hope to accomplish?
Tinson: For us, this was about creating a new culture at the company, one that recognized that we’re basically a content company. We have content creators all over the world, and I wanted to make sure that all of us were creating great content that would engage our fans. That’s easier said than done. Because you want to create content that tells the stories your fans want to hear and that requires a deeper connection with those fans. It’s not just about creating better one-way dialogue. I wanted to make sure we built capabilities for listening. I wanted to create a real two-way conversation.
We talk about making high-quality, authentic game experiences. We need to do the same thing with how we openly and transparently communicate with our consumer. Ultimately, this philosophy and these new tools don’t just help us create a better narrative to market or communicate about our games. It helps us become a better company and really, truly create a deeper connection with our fan base.
Q: Have you seen changes in the way you interact with fans?
Tinson: The great part about our transformation at this point is that we’re starting to see results. YouTube is a huge platform for us, and one that really correlates with sales. What we’re seeing there is that by creating fewer, better pieces of video, we can actually drive higher engagement, push down costs, and in the process, create a deeper connection through this better, more responsive content that our fans will actually enjoy. Often times what we think our customers might be interested in, in fact, isn’t necessarily what they’re interested in at all. When you start the process with listening and then have better discipline around what content you create, the results are just better.
Q: What were some of the challenges implementing the newsroom philosophy?
Tinson: At the outset I actually thought it would be easier. I thought it was more obvious. And I was surprised at times that there were bigger gaps in skill sets, bigger gaps in process than I would have anticipated. People weren’t used to the two-way dialogue and making sure they were listening and responding to what was happening around them.
Now I look and I’m actually somewhat surprised just how much the organization really is adopting this and really accepting this and really energized by it. And now our challenge is just how fast can we go. How fast can we implement all the things that we’ve said we want to do, and all the thinking that we know we need to do? How do we do that quick enough in a large global organization so we can really deliver on our promises?
I’d like to believe that the way we’re thinking about communications today is progressive and that it’s the right way to be executing on our mission. But there’s still a long way to go.
We think about our scope of distribution, and we realize that we are a lot bigger than many, many media companies. We don’t always need intermediaries to tell our stories for us.
Q: You started the newsroom in EA Sports, where your products have more of a connection with real-world events. Maybe it’s easier to be responsive. How does this translate to your other products like SimCity and Battlefield?
Tinson: I think it’s a great question around what in fact the newsroom really means, and how in fact we implement it. If we only think of the newsroom as an engine that helps us create real-time content based on the real world, well then, yes, certain products might have challenges. If we think more broadly about the newsroom, about how we do things and think about our stories, then we realize that every product, everything we do as a company should start by listening to our fans and the culture. For everyone in the company, every product, it is about creating stories, creating messages. We then need to optimize everything we do, not just create content to put something out there. There should be a distribution plan for everything that we create. And everything that we do must be measured. So I think the basic principles of the newsroom are perfectly applicable for everything we do as a company.
Operating like a newsroom helps us get closer to understanding the stories we want to tell or the conversations we want to have with our fans. There’s no reason why that’s not applicable to various functions throughout the organization, not the least of which is our games and how we develop games that our fans are actually going to want to engage with. Everybody has to put that connection with fans as an ultimate goal.
This isn’t just an exercise about how we organize our team. This is at the heart of transforming who we are as a company and how we connect and engage with consumers. It makes us better as communicators. It makes us better as game makers. It ultimately helps us build and manage the reputation of the company.
Q: Is this newsroom philosophy something that was always true for your function, or is this a reflection of something going on in communications today?
Tinson: A bit of both, I think. All of us as communications professionals have had to have editorial instincts. We had to have the ability to tell a story. And we had to understand how to earn that, not pay for that. Those principles have been the same since the first day of my career. But today the difference is how many more channels there are and how many more ways and mediums to exercise those editorial instincts. There are so many ways now that we can actually listen to our fans and not just push messages out. We can craft stories and craft messages based on what we’re hearing. That’s a big difference that makes the newsroom more critical.
Today, I think about brands as media companies. Our mission is about prioritizing that direct-to-consumer relationship and building trust through communications, just like media companies—and there’s no reason why a brand can’t do that as well.
When we think about EA as its own media company, we look purely at the numbers. We look at the number of fans that we have across social channels. We look at the fan base that comes to our website. We look at our email database. We think about our scope of distribution, and we realize that we are a lot bigger than many, many media companies. We don’t always need intermediaries to tell our stories for us. So while we like that third-party advocacy, it’s clear that we also need to drive some of those stories ourselves.
Images: Electronic Arts