Event report: BookMachine Unplugged 2019 – Talking Marcomms

Claire Ormsby-Potter

Creativity is key to a great marketing campaign, and when funds are limited it’s vital to come up with innovative ways to maximise your money. On 3rd July, BookMachine assembled a panel of amazing publicity and marketing experts to discuss their experience of working with smaller budgets and creating incredible and effective campaigns. Julia Garvey is an independent marketer working within publishing and EdTech, Mindy Gibbins-Klein is the co-founder of Panoma Press, Lauren Ace is the Brand Director for Little Tiger and Stripes Books, and Amy Winchester is Head of Publicity at Unbound.

Have a clear and consistent brand identity

Knowing what your brand is and what your company stands for can really set you apart from competitors. Panoma Press committed to publishing 80% of its books this year from underrepresented authors, because they felt it was right that their list should accurately represent the world around them, rather than a narrow slice of it. This pledge garnered plenty of attention and even led to Mindy speaking on stage at New York Book Expo about this commitment.

A clear and consistent message and tone can make your company seem much bigger than it is, as it displays professionalism and a detailed marketing message. Smaller companies can also exploit this to really give brands personality – with fewer people running campaigns, particularly on social media, it is easier to build authentic relationships with your customers and put a human face to the business. Lauren has found this a lot easier at Little Tiger with a smaller team, as there are very few questions she is unable to answer personally, whilst when she worked at Macmillan Children’s Books the list and team was much larger and, by necessity, work was more split between certain people.

Make your money work hard

Making a campaign which can do more than one thing is a great way to make sure you are maximising your spend and getting the most from your money. If you are attending an event, try to get a speaker onto at least one panel rather than just having a stand, as this will take your message directly to an audience. Little Tiger group their books so they can be marketed together under the same campaign, which means that each piece of marketing has multiple uses but also draws customers’ attention to complementary products on their list.

Haggling is a skill which is alive and well in marketing on a shoestring – Amy did a 21-author tour for £1,500 for Unbound’s The Good Immigrant, and a lot of it was knowing what could be spent and being upfront with venues about what was required to meet costs. If they were able to cover transport but not accommodation, events needed to be in the middle of the day; otherwise, the venue would have to cover board for the authors. This sort of cooperation can make it easier to share costs. Partnerships and sponsorships can also open up other cost-saving initiatives and help you reach a wider audience.

Eliminate waste

When working with a small budget, there is very little room for error, so ensuring that you plan your spend carefully in advance can be the key to a successful campaign. Things like sending out proofs can be very expensive, so consider if you really need to. If you do, limit the run and try to only send them to people who actually want them. Contact people in advance to see if they are interested, and so they know it’s coming. Limited proof runs have the added advantage of creating demand and interest! Sometimes putting the word out that you have a limited number of proofs and asking for people who are interested can bring people to you and mean they genuinely want to review the work.

Ask your authors who they think would be the most useful people to send copies to, as they often have their own networks which can be used. Digital advances are a much cheaper way of spreading the word as well, although may require DRM.

It’s also worth considering if you are doing something just because it’s what you’ve always done, and if it’s actually giving you the return you need. Is exhibiting at a show giving you a boost that justifies the expense? If not, give it a miss one year and see if it makes a difference. Break out of established channels if they’re not working for you.

Try something new

Try to think of new ways to use your marketing, and look for ideas from elsewhere in the industry which can be adapted to your purposes, or even outside of publishing! Julia has used ideas from around the industry to great success, adapting them for her clients. If you’re nervous about trying something new, see if you can downscale it to test how well it works. Target a specific area; that way if it doesn’t pan out you haven’t wasted time or money, but if it does you have evidence to support your pitch.

Also make sure to measure your success! Setting the criteria for success and then tracking your outcomes against them is the only way you will know if something has worked. It’s very important to use your data to support your successes, and also to acknowledge if something isn’t working. Don’t throw good money after bad; if a campaign isn’t working out, cut your losses and save your funds.

Following the panel was a Q&A, and then a chance for attendees to speak to the panel members one-on-one and discuss their campaigns and requirements. It was a brilliant discussion, and a wonderful opportunity to get advice tailored to everyone’s personal situations. Thanks to the BookMachine Team Unplugged for putting the event together!

Claire Ormsby-Potter graduated from the UCL MA Publishing class of 2016/17, winning the inaugural Stevenson Award for Publishing. She now works as a Junior Editor for Igloo Books and provides freelance editorial services through her website and blog, NerdsLikeMe.co.uk.

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