Never too late to teach a big brand new tricks

Our June meeting was jam-packed with case studies from a wide cross-section of campaigns, with presentations by Walker Books, Pan Macmillan, Profile and Penguin. We also heard from Matthew Knight, an independent strategy and innovation partner, who explored the emerging opportunities for publishing marketing teams to leverage content-hungry voice-controlled ‘smart home’ devices from the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google. 


Matthew Knight, independent strategy and innovation partner

  • Voice is going back to our storytelling roots
  • The thing that has really changed is the capacity to capture and do something meaningful with voice.
  • Voice devices work in three ways:
    • native voice – search via pre-existing search engine
    • native skills – functionality which the device has itself (things like playing audio, responding to voice cues). Voice not just in speakers but in things like a car, fridge, toilet – commands based on the device that is being engaged with
    • custom skills – allows you to add functionality which the device doesn’t have natively. Allows anyone (brand, org, charity) to create their own ‘skills’ to ‘react’ to instructions
  • More about custom skills:
    • where we are: timer (native skill), playing Spotify (custom skill), shopping (eg ordering a product, or an Uber) – somewhere between Gen 1 & Gen 2 (past 2-3 years)
    • next Gen (2-3): connecting to a database where people can pull specific information (eg Uber, or groceries)
      • plus interactive audio (like what is capable via a website)
    • beyond that: learning from interactions, using intuition based on habits
  • Question: so what are publishers doing in this space? (a: not very much)
    • example, gen 1: “Emergency Questions”; HarperCollins “Daily Sermon”, getting god to now ‘speak to you’. This is about asking for something, and getting something back
      • can take just a few hours to programme
    • example, gen 2:
      • Lonely Planet has transformed book content into searchable content that users can use (eg travelling to Portugal)
      • Kindle : carry on reading in voice (cross-device interaction)
      • Interactive audio:
        • choose your own adventure books (eg Batman & Superman, The Magic Door, the BBC’s ‘Conversational Radio’ play)
  • Why aren’t publishers engaging with this (yet)
    • myths: on time and resource to create “custom skills”, and complexity
    • Gen 1 – an afternoon; Gen 2 – a weekend and a week (more interactive and sound content)
  • Four opportunities
    • discovery: recommendations of books to explore
    • augmented: audiobooks designed for voice devices  (taking advantage of the interface)
      • can we create extra layers on physical books (build a world around stories by adding effects and music matched to voice cues, phrases in the book)
    • genre-defining: stories create natively for voice platforms
    • living: original content which unfolds in real-time and with audience participation
  • Possibilities:
    • get started: create tests, understand the platform, find out how it works, test with ‘real people’
    • find partners, develop with people experienced
    • do it for free – don’t try to commercialise from the start

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas – Jill Kidson, Walker

  • Playing to the strengths of the author, focusing on spoken word events, co-hosted with influential figures in the space
  • Worked with Liberty to create hype around the book (influencers etc), targeting with Instagram Collective, InBloom, the Good Quote
  • Outdoor creative: wanted to pick out a line from the book that spoke to and resonated with the audience

This is Going to Hurt, by Adam Kay – Paul Martinovic, Pan Macmillan

  • This is an incredibly funny book, important that the campaign tapped into this, and reflected. Working with the author, “The Funniest Book Ever Written for the NHS”, making Kay the ‘go-to’ voice for the NHS
  • Key to focus on both NHS professionals alongside the comedy circuit and comedy fans
  • Pulled out diary entries and created animations around lots of one-liners (for comedy fans)
  • For targeting junior doctors, pulling out real experiences which show the hard-working nature of their experience, in a darkly humorous light
  • Early creative again focused on the ‘funny but tragically true’ approach, drawing upon diary entries
  • Important to engage trade bookshops in a way that respects their capacity to be creative (case in point with POS displays)
  • Important to highlight humour when it is there

A Column of Fire, by Ken Follett – Sarah Arratoon, Pan Macmillan

  • Key challenge – engaging existing (45y.o.+ ) audience in an innovative way, but also broadening into a younger readership (Male/Female, 30+)
  • Two strands:
    • One: teamed up with Pigeonhole (global digital book club platform)
    • Two: offline campaign activity, taking on a more cinematic approach to outdoor (a battle over packshot / no-packshot, but decided it was still needed). Teamed up with the National Portrait Gallery to target their membership alongside a year-long social campaign, with video content to keep fans engaged
  • One of PanMacmillan’s most successful competitions, 30% uplift in newsletter subscribers
  • Take up on serialisation saw more than 40% take-up on those who downloaded the serial 
  • Learnings:
    • Never too late to teach an established brand new tricks
    • Look at competitions beyond the publishing bubble

Women and Power, by Mary Beard – Flora Willis, Profile

  • First tip: start a (Mary Beard) book club. Got buy in across the Profile team
  • Second: be cheap.
  • Got Mary to record a video using her smartphone in her study; much more natural than a professional approach (though having a professional presenter a handy advantage)
  • The bulk of spend went on promoting videos
  • Nice tie in with existing LRB lecture content (which the book was based upon)
  • Third: test and amend
  • original posts and videos had less engagement, changing from the “obvious” messaging about it being a bestseller, to engaging much more directly with the comments that people were making about the book itself
  • Ran a ‘tag  a man’ competition
  • Fourth: bookseller <3 at Christmas is invaluable
  • Five: once you’ve caught your wave, don’t let it go
    • Sent a copy to every MP in parliament, had a big response
    • Tying in with International Women’s Day
    • Made a ‘power’ necklace for influential people

Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo – Ingrid Matts, Penguin Press

  • Published in March 2017, the campaign lasted all year. Acquired off the back of a highly successful kickstarter campaign, published on IWD straight to #1
  • We all know that feeling, when that email arrives: “What more can we do?” … so, this is what we did. How can we level up something which is already a big success. We had scope to be more creative hadn’t planned an outdoor campaign but went for it anyway – making it message-based, harnessing the book content which saw a huge spike in conversations online
  • Really showed how possible it is to create messaging at short notice, and amplify something with a really strong joined-up approach with PR.