Roundtable

A conversation with Director of Marketing, Meghan Walker, Executive Director of Marketing, Suzanne Herz, and Marketing Associate, Kelsey Nencheck

February 1, 2008

1. “Marketing” is a term that covers a very broad spectrum of activities in your work at Spiegel & Grau. For people not familiar with what marketing departments at book publishing companies do, can you describe your role in the publication process?

Meghan Walker: To me, marketing is a two-pronged process: one internally focused and one external. First, we play an integral role in shaping the message of a book in-house. On the most basic and obvious level, we head up the creation of sales tools like title information sheets, catalog copy, and sell sheets that help with the process of selling books to accounts. We try to ensure that all the key players working on a title are clear on our approach and that our reps know exactly what they are selling and have what they need to do it. When all goes well, marketing can be the grease that keeps all the moving parts in smooth operation, making sure essential information from editorial is communicated to sales, that advertising and promotion are timed well with publicity, and that we are able to respond when a book starts to take off or provide extra ammunition when the opposite occurs. The second prong is focused on the sell-through and communicating our message to the outside world. Closer to publication we raise consumer awareness through print materials such as postcards, bookmarks, posters, and displays that are mailed directly to consumers and/or distributed or displayed by bookstores. We create promotions and contests that can run online as well as on radio and TV. Increasingly we are focusing efforts on the online world: video trailers, e-cards and e-newsletters, blog advertising, and helping authors to create a presence for themselves on blogs and social networking sites. At Spiegel & Grau we are also aiming to use our website to build an online community by posting new and original content from our authors each month.

Suzanne Herz: Marketing is a multi-layered process. Once a book is bought it is critical to begin the buzz. This is done by reaching out to booksellers and harnessing their enthusiasm. Additional excitement is created when editors garner early advance praise for a book and then the marketing team begins to share it with our retailers. One of our greatest marketing tools is the jacket. It is what the consumer responds to, and each jacket has to bring home the message of the book. With jacket and endorsements in hand, and of course advanced readers’ copies, we can seed the marketplace and build word of mouth through the Web, bookstore newsletters, and targeted mailings to niche markets.

Kelsey Nencheck: Marketing can also play a key role in reaching unique consumer markets. Brainstorming and identifying niche communities of any size can add yet another layer of buzz with a very targeted—and influential—audience. If such a loyal audience supports a book, its popularity can have a viral effect and translate into a wider audience. The increasing importance of online marketing also makes it imperative for marketing departments to be on constant watch for new technologies and marketing tools. Finding those tools and educating editorial, sales, and publicity on their effectiveness not only helps promote our books but also keep publishing ahead of the technology game.

2. Marketing departments are always trying to look for new ways to find audiences for their company’s books. What techniques have had exciting results in the first few months seasons of publishing Spiegel & Grau titles?

MW: The motivation is always the same: to reach as many people who you think will be interested in a particular title as you can. How you go about that depends on the type of book you are working on. For Spiegel & Grau’s first title, Suze Orman's Women & Money, we were blessed with a well-known author with an established platform, an endless list of contacts and connections, and a clear and targeted message. Suze is a tireless promoter who really believes in the message of her book. Working with Suze is akin to what I imagine working on a political campaign would be like. Our message was refined from very early on. And then we took it to the people. We hit up every single person, website, corporation—you name it—who had ever worked with Suze and enlisted their support. With that book it was more a matter of keeping up with the response than it was coming up with new and creative angles. Our second title, the historical thriller Ghostwalk, was all about getting people to read it early on. The amazing read coupled with the great package helped us garner a lot of early enthusiasm. Once we had the support from our accounts and blurbs from other writers, we were able to make a concerted effort to reach book clubs through direct mail and online outreach. We also had a lot of very interesting ancillary materials that enabled us to build a beautiful Web site. With Ellington Boulevard, we were lucky to have a novel that had a few great hooks: real estate, Manhattan, and musical theatre. So we crafted pitches and materials to reach each audience. With Lee Siegel's polemic on the Internet, Against the Machine, we are using the serious and thoughtful review coverage to spark an interest in the business and technology/Web 2.0 realms as well as stoke the flames our controversial author will undoubtedly set in the blogoshpere.

3. If money were no object, are there marketing strategies other industries use that you wish you could apply to Spiegel & Grau titles?

MW: If money were no object I would do a lot more online outreach, including prominent and repetitive banner ads on highly trafficked Web sites. I would also love to create video trailers for more titles, because many of our authors have interesting back stories and have traveled far and wide in order to craft their narratives. Video interviews with them and slideshows of their photographs and personal effects can really help to bring their stories to life for a reader. Of course, loads of television and radio advertising would also be quite nice, but they are a luxury reserved for only the biggest of the big titles.

SH: If money were no object I would start teaser campaigns for books months ahead of time.

KN: I would love to have the budget and audience reach of major film campaigns. From compelling theatrical teaser campaigns, polished and high-end TV trailers, billboards, and extensive online advertising, studios have the resources to make a big splash—immediately. Studios seem to use the Internet to its fullest potential from advertising to original online content (behind-the-scene specials, syndicated actor/director interviews, etc.) that can overtake the blogosphere and drive consumers to theatres. With that said, however, the publishing world is quite special in that a title’s popularity and bestseller potential can grow organically and exponentially via word-of-mouth and incredible reviews, whereas a film without a marketing budget rarely becomes a box office hit.

4. Do you foresee any changes in marketing as the digital age progresses?

MW: Oh my God, yes! To paraphrase Chevy Chase’s ball-bearings line in Fletch: It’s all online these days. The amount of time people spend online is increasing rapidly. So we need to reach our potential customers where they are. Creating book-specific Web sites seems to be a waste of money, as it is tough to build traffic. A better approach is to figure out ways to reach preexisting communities and we are always looking for ways to do this. Dwindling review space in traditional print media has led to the creation of many online communities for book lovers and we need to continue to look for ways to work with these sites to market our books. On a more basic level, it’s also worth noting that the digital age has made traditional marketing much easier. Researching special interest groups and creating mailing lists and can now be done with the click of the mouse.

KN: The next generation to enter the workforce has grown up in the digital age—they regularly use text messages, RSS, and blogs. It will be interesting to see if their buying behavior changes the industry in the next few years and how we’ll adapt in the publishing world. Will e-readers take off and be the hot item for 2011? Will print advertising become less effective while people in their twenties and thirties spend more time on the Internet and watching television than reading a newspaper? The publishing world must rise to the challenge to stay viable in the digital age.