Category: Case Studies

What made the Lowborn campaign such a success?

Lowborn - Kerry Hudson

Lowborn - Kerry Hudson

Earlier this year, Sophie Painter of VINTAGE won the Best Guerrilla Marketing Award (April-June 2019) for her campaign for Kerry Hudson’s Lowdown. The judges said this was:

A stellar example of a campaign delivering on some clear objectives with a small budget and within a very short timeline. They not only conceived and delivered a campaign to support an important social justice campaign, but also made use of high profile partnerships with relevant charities to deliver a wide range of events and reach new audiences for this book.

But what did Sophie think the key elements of the campaign were? Here are her key takeaways:

  • The best campaigns are created when the author, agent, editorial, sales, publicity and marketing all agree and work towards the same goals from the outset. This was a hugely collaborative campaign based on the plans we set out to author and agent nine months ahead of publication. It’s especially important to have built this trust early on when a book is so personal to and difficult for the author.
  • In order to draw non-traditional book-buying audiences to events the key things to consider are the accessibility of the location, price and format.
  • You don’t need a huge advertising budget if you can work with large charity partners in a meaningful way, but your activity has to be led by their campaigns.
  • The personal recommendation of booksellers is central to this kind of narrative non-fiction in hardback, it can be time consuming to reach out to individual bookshops but their passion will sustain the sales once all of the publicity and marketing has run.

8 takeaways from Michelle Obama’s Becoming campaign


Last month, Amelia Fairney and Rose Poole from the Penguin General marketing team presented some of the highlights of the huge campaign they ran for Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. Even if you don’t have a former First Lady for an author, there is plenty to learn for people planning for event publications:

1) Early consumer insight / analysis is really worth it

9 months ahead of publication, the team went out to speak to people and find out what Michelle Obama means to them. This informed the strategy around the campaign.

They took a film crew to create voxpop videos. These were used as part of the digital campaign further down the line, reaching over 500k people, and are still being used now.

2) Pull in colleagues from across the company

A taskforce was created from across the whole of Penguin Random House – the only criteria for entry was that you had to love Michelle Obama.

This taskforce brainstormed ideas and also gave feedback on the Marketing & Publicity campaign presented to them.

They felt invested in the book from the beginning and acted as both a sounding board and a great source of ideas.

3) Speak to retailers early

When the cover was ready in Spring 2018, the team went on an UK-wide tour of bookshops. This allowed them to ask questions and tailor specific plans to customers.

In turn, bookshops felt real value and were kept constantly updated.

Waterstones was the biggest retail partner and their support was crucial. They ran an exclusive pre-order competition to win a trip to New York and also held a big author event with them.

4) Start advertising early

The social advertising started in May, and audience groups were built depending on response, with the team really responsive to results.

There were 150 creatives and they saw 45k clicks to retail for a spend of £8k.

5) Create a news moment

There were no firm publicity commitments until late in the day and so the team needed under the radar ways to engage people.

A giant mural created a news moment. The team partnered with Dreph, known for his empowering portraits of black women. He chose what to draw – he didn’t want to just recreate the book jacket.

It was very authentic and he also did interviews about it for publicity, becoming a spokesperson for the book.

Candice Carty-Williams – a Michelle superfan – also did a live review on the Penguin website.

6) Identify the right partners

The team worked with The Advocacy Academy, a social justice fellowship for young people from marginalised communities in London.

They ran an event to fundraise for the Academy selling the book for £5, and also ran a staff book sale with proceeds going to Academy.

The Academy came and spoke to staff at PRH and some of their advocates attended the South Bank event. This relationship, set up for the book, is now ongoing, and has also provided a legacy which is an issue so important to Michelle Obama.

In the week leading to the Michelle Obama visit, the team partnered with GalDem. They partnered on a pop-up shop in Bloomsbury with a programme of events themed to issues that Michelle Obama cared about.

The team also identified the top influencers in different segments, putting careful thought into how to reach and work with them. With the book under strict embargo, they weren’t able to offer much apart from enthusiasm!

7) Don’t forget the audio

Read by Michelle Obama herself, the audiobook was a way to reach non-traditional book buyers. The team devised a plan for the year, including pre-order advertising and early excerpts online. They also offered an exclusive extract to Apple News.

Radio ads sampled the audiobook on Classic FM, and podcast activity has included sponsorship on biggest book podcasts.

BOTW on Radio 4 coincided with launch of the BBC Sounds App – a happy coincidence but also another chance to use the audio.

8) Maximise events

There were two events – one with the Elizabeth Garrett School and a sell-out event at the Southbank Centre.

The team worked with PRH Audiences at both events – capturing content and data, and leading the conversation online. The school talk was videoed and bundled with curriculum resources to send to teachers for classroom use.

Giant banners provided great photo opportunities while they were able to invite Influencers to the Southbank as a thank you for all their support.

Those are the things WE took away, but we’d love to know: What were your key learnings from the presentation?

We found love in a hopeless place. A view from The Clothes Show LIVE.

Picture this scene. You are at The Birmingham NEC surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful people, wearing the hottest fashions and sporting the biggest hair styles since Dallas (and I’m talking vintage, not Channel 5). On the hour, every hour, Rhianna sings We Fell In Love In A Hopeless Place. The models strut the catwalk. They look sexy. They are fabulous. Celebrities galore from TV, music and fashion also take the many stages while teams of hot dancers parade around them. The globe’s biggest fashion and beauty brands from couture to high street line the arena with eye popping offers.

Then in come 170,000 women primarily aged 17-24 with £16.6m to spend.  And they are all looking for a bargain.

This is the Clothes Show Live and in 2011 Books And The City took a stand.  Why, you ask?  Two reasons really.

  1. Because it is brand partnership HEAVEN
  2. Thousands of these girls LOVE chic lit

Books and the City is an online and direct to consumer marketing initiative set up by the staff and authors of Simon & Schuster who share many passions including [a] food, fashion, beauty, cocktails and most of all chick lit.  With a decline in sales across the genre it is clear that these consumers are not heading to the high street as frequently these days in the economic downturn.  But that doesn’t mean they love their romance any less.  So we felt that going to places where these consumers were heading such as specific exhibitions, trade fairs and media sponsored brand events was the perfect way to engage with new readers.

We took six authors who signed books and met with fans, performed writer presentations and tapped up new brand partners to work with in on-going third party marketing activities. We gave away goodie bags full of books, offered amazing competition prizes and signed up over 5,000 new members to our monthly newsletter.  We sold quite a few books too!

This year we are going again.  We are hosting a Literary Salon where 350 Clothes Show visitors can meet with our authors, many of who also continue to work in the media for a networking event.  We have even bigger brand partnership competition prizes with the likes of Champney’s, Project D, Kandee Shoes and Young British Designers.  We’ll be selling books at hugely competitive prices and we aim to come away with an even fatter contacts book so that we can build wider promotional networks for our on-going marketing campaigns.

We might even find a bit of time to buy shoes and make up too.  *But don’t tell Ian Chapman*


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Dawn Burnett is the Marketing Director (Adult Division) at Simon & Schuster and for the last 7 years has spearheaded numerous award-winning and bestselling campaigns with her brilliant team. Prior to this she worked for Ebury Publishing and Pan Macmillan. She is currently reading The Knot by Mark Watson. More blogs[/author_info] [/author]


Discovering SEO:
A Publisher’s Guide

Following what was for many (perhaps depressingly) a revelatory talk at the Bookseller’s Marketing Conference in June, Chris McVeigh here outlines the ‘immeasurable benefits’ that SEO tools can offer.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the declining sales of publishers’ print backlists as the popularity of eBooks continues to rise.

David Shanks, CEO of Penguin GroupUSA, laid part of the blame for their recent steep drop in profits on the declining value of backlist print sales:

“With literally millions of titles available online, the chances that someone will find your book are decreased immeasur­ably,” Shanks explained. “There is just too much to choose from. How many screens do you browse before you get tired and just pick something that you have seen.”

Perhaps one answer to this issue of backlist discoverability is for publishers to learn a simple truth that most other industries in the business to consumer sector (B2C) learned many years ago – effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) coupled with a well thought out Inbound Marketing strategy is the key to visibility on the web.

The publishing industry is almost unique in its’ widespread failure to grasp the benefits of SEO and inbound marketing. Pretty much every other consumer-facing sector, from property, personal finance or travel through to the automotive and consumer electronics industries – all rely on sophisticated SEO & Inbound Marketing strategies in order to ensure the discoverability of their brands and products in the online environment.

So what exactly is Inbound Marketing and why should publishers use it?

“Inbound Marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on attracting prospective customers by offering useful information in contrast to outbound marketing where brands “buy, beg, or bug their way in” (via paid advertisements, issuing press releases in the hope they get picked up by the trade press, or paying commissioned sales people, respectively).” – Wikipedia

Who has more ‘useful information’ to base a well thought our inbound marketing campaign than publishers? Publishers have buckets of the stuff. Millions of words of well edited, well researched, well written content that could be placed in front of consumers for their consideration. When this content is coupled with an effective SEO strategy it becomes possible for publishers to draw consumers into their websites in greater numbers, much more easily and with much greater effect than a ‘like’ on Facebook or a ‘retweet’ on Twitter.

How can this help boost backlist sales?

One of the problems of falling backlist sales is that publishers (and to a lesser degree, consumers) are almost drowning under the sheer weight of books now tumbling into the digital sales environment. Understandably most of the marketing effort goes into promoting new titles but often that means that backlist titles struggle to gain any useful degree of visibility. The irony here of course is that traditionally it’s often the backlist that keeps publishers profitable in lean times.

Here’s a real life example of a non-fiction publisher who had begun to notice a year on year decline in the value of their backlist sales.

This company published approximately 80 new books per year and had around 400 titles in their backlist. Over a period of 3 years their turnover had stalled at around £1.2 million and the proportion of backlist sales had fallen from around 58% to 42%.

There were many reasons for this change, many of them structural – in fact the two main reasons – growth of online book-selling and changing stock holding policies in terrestrial book stores – were both beyond the control of the publisher.

The simple fact was that although online book-sellers listed all the backlist titles on their sites, the serendipity had been taken out of the book buying process and the backlist titles (without the promotional budgets of the frontlist titles) were sinking into invisibility. The fact that this was happening at the same time as terrestrial bookshops were savagely cutting the number of titles they kept in stock, only added insult to injury.

How then to raise awareness of these backlist titles without assigning large amounts of (unavailable) promotional budget? The answer lay in SEO & Inbound marketing.

  • We took small selections of content, no more than 10 pages or so from 100 of the publishers most successful backlist titles.
  • We used this content to increase the extent of the publisher’s website to include a ‘Guides’ section.
  • We augmented this content by applying tried and tested SEO techniques to ensure that these new website pages figured highly in search engine results pages.

After 6 months, the results were astounding. Website visitors had risen from around 6000 per month to just over 100,000 per month.

After 12 months we could see the full results of this experiment.

Website visitors had risen to over 200,000 per month (an increase of 4000%) and sales had increased by 12% (£146,000). Crucially most of this sales increase was focused on the backlist titles featured in the trial.

Within 12 months, the proportion of frontlist/backlist had shifted significantly.

2009-2010       58% Frontlist / 42% Backlist

2010-2011         49% Frontlist / 51% Backlist

This publisher is now continuing to add to their inbound marketing strategy with more content and latest figures are backing up and even improving upon the original experiment.

These are real numbers from a real publisher. There is no need for complicated analytics or metrics to measure the success of this sort of campaign. Actual double digit growth on the balance sheet and a ROI over 12 months of 1360%.

It seems clear that publishers underestimate the real value that is locked in to their content libraries. Value that is easily unlocked by applying tried and tested techniques which have been in wide use by other industries for almost a decade.

Obviously SEO and Inbound Marketing are not magic bullets. These techniques on their own won’t solve all the problems of discoverability and visibility faced by publishers but they can help immeasurably. In addition, as things stand at the moment, so few publishers have genuinely engaged with these tools that the ones that do will be almost certainly be rewarded with enormous first mover advantage.

Find out more on, or you can get in touch with Chris via Twitter on @SEOforBooks


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Chris McVeigh spent a decade working within major publishing corporations, notably Elsevier and Thomson. In 2003 he established himself as an independent consultant assisting publishers on marketing issues and emerging technologies. During this time he became a vocal advocate on the benefits of SEO for publishers and is regarded as a pioneer in this field. Now based in Los Angeles he acts as a business analyst advising media and technology companies on opportunities in the publishing sector. [/author_info] [/author]


The Age of Flashmobs

40 orange umbrellas?  Check.
Video camera fully charged?  Check.
Note to company to wear running shoes in case we have to leg it?  Sent.
100 copies of The Age of Miracles delivered to every desk in the company?  Check.
Simon & Schuster:  We are ready to flashmob!

Three years ago we did something a bit naughty for Philippa Gregory’s advertising campaign of The White Queen.  We projected her book jacket onto The Tower of London and The Houses of Parliament.  It was exciting.  It was dangerous.  It was teetering on the edge of legality, verging on breaking local authority regulations even if it wasn’t quite breaking the law.  But for a bunch of middle-class publishers who read books, wear glasses, don’t throw litter and pay taxes… this was ANARCHY!  And it felt good.

In June on the longest day of the year, Simon & Schuster organised its first flashmob for The Age of Miracles which has been one of the most talked about debut novels of 2012.  There was the usual advertising mix of outdoor posters and traditional press but what generated the most chat was the video and photos of our entire company, clad in orange outfits, sitting in Trafalgar Square reading a copy of this brilliant novel.  Tourists took our photos.  Strangers asked us what was going on. A handsome Italian man asked us for our books (and our phone numbers). We were spreading the word, especially across Twitter where our activities were being picked up and commented on by our customers, competitors and bloggers alike.

The only fly in the ointment was the Trafalgar Square ranger having a very stern word with our MD Ian Chapman and telling us to clear off otherwise there would be trouble.  Ian didn’t wear his running shoes.  The rest of us left him for dust.

Have you got a Flashmob story? Let us know in the comments or tweet to @BMSoc!


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Dawn Burnett is the Marketing Director (Adult Division) at Simon & Schuster and for the last 7 years has spearheaded numerous award-winning and bestselling campaigns with her brilliant team. Prior to this she worked for Ebury Publishing and Pan Macmillan. She is currently reading The Knot by Mark Watson. More blogs[/author_info] [/author]



CASE STUDY: Lord of the Flies cover competition

The Lord of the Flies Cover Competition for 13 to 16-year-olds ran from September 2011 to January 2012, in partnership with Guardian Children’s Books. It was at the heart of a campaign to promote the Centenary Edition of the book.

The central idea was to invite a new jacket illustration for an Educational Edition (to be published September 2012) from students encountering the book at GCSE level. The campaign hoped to ignite conversation about this classic novel, and generate a significant amount of PR, both online and off.

Though not a particularly unique concept – we admit this freely! – there were a number of factors that made the competition a success. Paramount to this was the book itself. As well as being a dream campaign for a Faber marketing manager, the ubiquity of Lord of the Flies meant that it needed no introduction. Our artists and illustrators were likely already reading it, and would be re-imagining it, crucially, for an audience of their peers. The book’s reputation was also a huge advantage when seeking press coverage.

Getting started

We took the decision early that the competition would be run online through a custom website ( We commissioned an identity, distinct from any archive or current jackets, with the aim of making an impact with a demographic that spanned teens as well as teachers, librarians and educators. Encouraging social sharing at all points in the campaign was crucial for our teen demographic, so entries were managed online and via a public gallery, each piece of artwork being supplied a unique URL and its own sharing buttons. The site also featured a set of bespoke digital resources for young illustrators, all posted on familiar platforms (YouTube, WordPress, Vimeo, Flickr). As well as good collateral for teachers, our aim for the resources was to create content that invited sharing. Bringing together a set of archive Lord of the Flies jackets alone garnered over 13,000 views on Flickr.

The major partnership with the Guardian – in which the competition featured heavily as part of the newspaper’s Books Season, as well as through a series of features and social media updates over four months – gave the campaign its running start. It also sparked a generous amount of follow-up press. Overall, the Guardian accounted for a meaty 29% of our referral traffic to the site, followed by Wikipedia (13%), where the book’s listing already sees high traffic, and Twitter (10%), where most of the competition updates and discussion took place.

Reaching teens

The Guardian was also central to the awareness campaign aimed at teachers. Its messaging to its own Teachers Network was teamed with our PR and email activity to teachers and educational bodies. A partnership with The Reading Agency gave us access to libraries, which, in a brilliant coup for traditional offline marketing – in this case a flyer in a library – was where our winner Amy Baxter found out about the competition.

So after an extended wait in which it dawned on us that teens do, in fact, work right up to deadlines, the last two weeks saw a flurry of entries. Our final tally was 277, with a high proportion being submitted in classroom-sized batches by teachers. The winner announcement gave us a second bite at publicity (which included coverage on the Guardian, culture, design and literary sites, and an appearance by our winner on BBC Breakfast), resulting in our highest single day traffic coming unusually at the end of the campaign.

There is a nice and rare sense of longevity in this project that owes much to its source material. The site and resources will hopefully remain a lasting part of the online presence for Lord of the Flies, and the entries are a fascinating glimpse into how young readers experience and interpret this classic novel.

The Lord of the Flies cover competition was Highly Commended in the Sept-Dec Seasonal Marketing Campaign Awards. 

Marketing: Silvia Novak & Susan Holmes
Publicity: Rebecca Pearson & Rachel Alexander
Website: Omni Digital (

View all of the cover design entries, the winner and shortlist, at


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Silvia Novak is Consumer Marketing Manager at Faber and Faber, where she has commissioned a number of interactive projects and direct-to-consumer campaigns, including the online story and experimental poetry site[/author_info] [/author]