21 things we’ve learned from the BMS Masterclasses (so far)

In the buildup to our two new BMS Masterclasses with James Spackman in October and November, here’s a selection of his takeaways from leading marketers, each offering their pearls of wisdom on nostalgic tech, culinary-inspired campaigns and much more.

Partners can boost our ambition. Andrea Bowie (PRH Marketing Officer) described how the invigorating drive of Tom Fletcher’s management team and the sheer size of FMCG giant Warburtons (their “crumpet partner”) helped Puffin think big with the Christmasaurus campaign.

Working with teachers is a big deal, and getting bigger. But not easier. All three of our speakers in the children’s Masterclass acknowledged it as a specialist discipline. Understanding schools’ scheduling, budgets, vocabulary even, and what makes a lesson plan genuinely useful … are all vital.

Publishers can learn from the music industry about promoting events. The Christmasaurus team didn’t announce all their dates at once, and held some back to be added “due to demand”.

Making stuff” isn’t everything in marketing, but it’s still important. Jenny Fry (Communications Director, Canongate) described how her team reaped huge rewards from the time, money and staff creativity invested in the POS for The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig, as indies backed it to the hilt.

An author tour can be approached like theatre. Jenny Fry was clear that Matt Haig’s events are less “book talk” and more “one man show”.

World Book Day tokens get kids reading. One in four kids (aged 8-11) in the NLT Annual Literacy Survey said the book they bought with their 2016 World Book Day book token was the first book they had owned, we were told by Kirsten Grant, Director of WBD.

Fancy dress has been crucial to World Book Day’s long term success. It is the second biggest dressing up occasion in the UK every year, after Halloween.

There’s no model for a big book campaign any more. Everything should be bespoke, said Sara Lloyd (Digital and Communications Director at PanMac): “if there’s a template, we may as well all go home”.

If in doubt, go back to the text. When you’re stuck, creatively, (said Jessica Killingley, ex-Hodder & Stoughton), remember that “we’re all muppets, compared with the author” so find a way to go back to the source and use their work …

Focus groups help you pick the right words to talk to your audience in language that works for them. Julia Pidduck (ex-Marketing Manager at Orion) explained how the verbal branding of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia was centred around three words – secret, scandal and intrigue –  because they had been found to resonate with the audience. And because they were targeting a TV audience as well as book buyers, they learned to refer to it as a “series”.

 An author’s social audience gives you “feel”, not just data. Sara Lloyd told us that the team learned the tone and character of Joe Wicks’ followers simply by studying their interactions, which was just as important as their demographics.

A good designer is your campaign’s best friend. If they get what you’re trying to do and are on-board from the start, explained Jessica Killingley, while describing her campaign for Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven, they will bring distinctiveness and creativity to the work.

Marketers are educators. As Julia Pidduck put it, “our colleagues don’t know what they don’t know”, so if new technologies creates an opportunity, it’s up to you to demonstrate within your publishing team how it can be used to reach readers.

You need boots on the ground. An author’s social media platform is all very well, but the ones who meet lots of booksellers, face to face, really make a difference. And, with that other old-school campaign element – proofs – new-school social media only amplifies the effect.

A big app launch is like a startup…. meaning long hours of constant vigilance, real-time results and quick adjustments … and also lots of excitement, as Julia Pidduck explained (for the Belgravia campaign). It also means you need to act like a retailer and sharpen your customer service skills for the public.

Behind the scenes moments’ is a key new trend (AKA Joe Wicks’s Tears). The authentic emotion of an author opening their first box of books is a big deal to their fans. Readers ARE curious about how the publishing process works. “In a world of beta testing and user-generation”, said Sara Lloyd, “consumers are interested and expect to be let in”. And this can apply to fiction too …

Marketers should learn to write like booksellers talk, explained Caroline Maddison (Head of Audience Development at Penguin) and Claire Wilshaw (Penguin’s Audience Development Director). The creators of the #ByBook multi-title campaign, they channeled their inner retailers to persuasively recommend books on their site. The difference to conventional book blurb is striking…

A hashtag is a better listening device than broadcasting tool, said Justine Gold, ex of Little, Brown, in relation to her promotion of Margaret Atwood’s backlist: the I [heart] Atwood campaign. If your message is clear and shareable, you don’t necessarily need a hashtag.

A novel is like a plate of food. Inspired by Zainab Juma at Penguin, Caroline Maddison suggested describing books as though they were dishes (ingredients, flavours, size, etc).

… by the same token, Mills & Boon novels are bars of chocolate to their readers, according to Emma Pickard, the imprint’s Senior Marketing Executive. An indulgent treat that they absolutely know will be enjoyable.

Programming nostalgia is a thing. Matthew Young, designer at Penguin and one of three creators of their groundbreaking Richard Dawkins anniversary campaign, told us that people’s fond memories of obsolete code (Dawkins’ evolution modeler) was a crucial PR draw.

The physical presence of books is a powerful draw. The #ByBook video used giant books, being carried, held, used, by human beings. Not so much glorifying the object, but showing it in use.

James Spackman is a freelance publisher and consultant leading on a series of marketing masterclasses hosted by the Book Marketing Society. The next  masterclass is on Thursday 23rd November (on Brands).

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