On marketing celebrity authors: Jodie Mullish interview

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Jodie Mullish is Communications Director at Pan Macmillan imprint Bluebird, publisher of Joe Wicks, Russell Brand and Jasmine Hemsley. She was previously Head of Fiction Marketing at Pan Macmillan, and has also worked at Penguin, Quarto and a number of award-winning marketing and PR agencies on clients as diverse as Banksy, Christian Aid and the Central Office of Information. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

1) When working with an established celebrity like Russell Brand, how does his platform help the marketing efforts?

It’s a huge help, of course. In our social media saturated times, we all still know that having an author on a prime time TV or radio show absolutely sells books, so working with a celebrity author who can command that coverage is a huge help. Celebrity authors also give access to exciting partners – and partnerships can be used effectively both to increase the reach of a campaign and to ­­help with positioning.

Events are a brilliant, if somewhat labour intensive and high risk way to sell books. A genuine celebrity author who can pull in the punters,  who can create an event that not only sells books on the night, but lives on and reaches thousands more via social media, and has the social cachet that means anyone who attends tells their friends about it is extremely valuable.

The social media following that a celebrity author commands is also very helpful – more on that in a later question.

2) What motivates the marketing team when promoting a book by a person who is already so successful

Part of what motivates a marketing team in this situation is the chance of creating a monster book success. Stakes with authors like this are high: it’s likely the publisher has paid a large advance, and all the advantages outlined in the previous question mean that a massive bestseller could be on the cards. But with an already successful author, there is a huge amount to consider in a campaign; and a large number of moving pieces to control and manage. That’s also what makes it interesting.

With a huge and engaged fanbase you get to have some fun and be creative: for Russell we set up a secret pop up event about the book at the Wilderness festival, two months before publication to launch the campaign. It was announced on Russell’s social media on the morning of the event, and three hours later crowds were massing outside the tent. The event was viewed over 50,000 times on Russell’s social channels.

For Joe Wicks, we were able to use fans’ ‘#Leanin15Selfies in the outdoor creative for Lean in 15: The Sustain Plan, plotting them on a map of the UK that zoomed into whichever area of the country in which the ad was being shown, shining a spotlight on local fans.

3) Commercial authors can often be treated as though they are brands. How does an author get to that point?

I believe that an author reaches brand status when he or she becomes more than their stories alone: when they confer the mark of quality on a book that a well-known and trusted logo confers on a product. That means they need to be recognisable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean famous – they could simply be a brand to their particular community (be that sci-fi and fantasy, self-help, or anything else.)

4) Russell Brand has a substantial social media following. How does this affect the way the marketing team might promote him

The first task of a marketer is to identify where the audience for a book is and the best ways of reaching them. When an author has a substantial social media following, much of that work is already done. Marketing to fans should never be the entire campaign, but being able to access a warm, engaged audience, often directly and by the author themselves is one of the most authentic and effective routes to sales. Galvanising fans to pre-order, talk about the book and become unofficial ambassadors for it is a brilliant way of driving a groundswell of excitement and attention. Plus, we can of course target those fans via social media advertising with very little wastage.

But we shouldn’t only be marketing to fans. A substantial social media following is also a gift because it allows marketers to listen to the community they want to reach. What are fans saying about the author? What do they like and dislike? What sort of posts and content have they responded to previously, and how?

For our campaign for Russell Brand’s book Recovery, social media has been absolutely central, and we worked with Russell and his producer to develop a suite of content, from videos each tackling a different element of the book, to a huge series of quote cards, ensuring that every event was broadcast live and pitching Russell the idea of special book-related episodes of his hit YouTube show The Trews, which turned into spin off series Trew: Recovery.

5) How do marketers promote a well known author differently than a first time author

For marketers (as opposed to publicists) one of the key differences is probably budget. First time authors often don’t have marketing spend allocated, so a campaign will naturally be smaller. But essentially the end point is the same: convince people to read this book and tell other people about it.

Whilst that is easier with a well-known author, there are other difficulties, especially if that author is switching genre or tackling a new subject. They may be well known, but what are they well known for? Russell Brand is known as a comedian and for his political views, and people know he is a recovering addict, but he has never written a self-help book before. Marketers working on well known authors must have a robust strategy for their activity; it’s not about taking every opportunity to promote, but selecting and forging the correct ones that will work for that strategy.

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