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Winning Non-Fiction Marketing campaign – Becoming: an interview

Amelia Fairney is General Communications Director at Penguin Random house UK. Last month her team won the Book Marketing Society award for Non-Fiction campaign for Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. We wanted to find out a little bit more about the reasons for the success of this campaign.

1. What do you think was the main reason for the success of the campaign?

Michelle Obama! She was officially the world’s most influential female voice in 2018, and someone who cares passionately about equality, empowerment and social justice. She has also led an incredibly interesting life, so of course, people were desperate to read her story.

2. At what point of the campaign did you realise quite how successful it was going to be?

We had stratospheric ambitions for Becoming from the start, feeling it would appeal to the widest cross-section of the UK market, engaging infrequent book buyers as well as heavy readers.

At the start of the campaign we went round the country and filmed vox pops in town centres, asking people what Michelle Obama meant to them. We were absolutely blown away by the overwhelmingly positive response of people to her – and how passionate and articulate they were in their reasons for admiring her. At that point, we really realised we had something very special on our hands. This is before we had even read the book!

3. What resources did you find most useful in the planning and execution of this campaign?

It’s an interesting question. I think the most useful resources we had were the people we worked with – both in-house and external partners.

I always felt with this book that Viking was merely publishing it on behalf of PRH – and we wanted to share the opportunity to be involved in it across the wider business. So, we worked with the Penguin Random House’s in house Inclusion Group to identify a group of people at Penguin Random House who felt particularly invested in Becoming. We made sure Colour[full] which is PRH’s network for people of colour, were also heavily involved. These women (they were all women) were unflagging in their enthusiasm and support for Becoming and helped us on the campaign throughout, including staffing the pop-up shop we ran in partnership with gal-dem and ensuring the whole of Penguin Random House was celebrating Michelle Obama on publication day, 13th November. There was also a staff sale of Becoming across all our sites, decorations and Michelle Obama-topped cupcakes!

Our external partners were absolutely crucial in the execution of the campaign. As well as gal-dem magazine, we partnered with The Advocacy Academy, a youth empowerment project based in Brixton, Dreph, an acclaimed street artist and with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Mulberry School (two schools Michelle Obama had an existing relationship with) on activity designed to raise awareness of the values Michelle Obama stands for, and which would leave a legacy.

4. How did the author’s role impact on the campaign?

Michelle Obama’s visit to London was the highlight of our campaign. Her visit generated intense press coverage for weeks beforehand: speculation about who she might meet, what she would wear etc! On the day, we had blanket press coverage of her two events – one at EGA school and one at the Royal Festival Hall, and she was at the top of all the national evening news broadcasts. We recorded her talk at EGA school and have made it available on Youtube, with accompanying downloadable curriculum-based resources which can be used by schools worldwide, so her words of wisdom for young people are available for all – I recommend a watch!

5. Finally, if you could re-run the campaign again – what would you have done differently?

We organised the London event at fairly short notice so we were limited on venue choice. The South Bank event was very special, and it’s a wonderful venue, but we could have filled it five times over! I wish we could have given more people the opportunity to see Michelle Obama live last year. Luckily we were able to announce that she is coming back to speak at the O2 in April, so I hope all those who were disappointed have managed to secure tickets to that event.

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Amelia Fairney has worked in publishing and bookselling for twenty-five years including stints at Waterstones, WH Smiths, The Women’s Press and Little Brown. She has been Penguin General’s Communications Director since 2011 and has worked on award-winning campaigns for Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin and Becoming by Michelle Obama amongst many others. She has long championed brand and organisational partnerships at Penguin Random House, and aims to put social purpose at the heart of her campaigns.

Becoming, Book Marketing Society, Penguin Random House

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