If you ever need a shot of bookish adrenaline, you could do worse than attend one of The Bookseller’s Marketing & Publicity Conferences. When it comes to our events I don’t have favourites of course, but there is something about #MPConf that is always a delight and a boost.
Perhaps it is the timing: in early summer - for publishing at least - all is still to play for: the big books have not yet had their innings, but enough time has already been spent at the crease to know how the market is behaving. There is a mood of expectancy about publishing at this time, allied with experience from already having hit the road. This year, with print still edging forward, despite the economic uncertainties, hope runs deep.
The June date has meant that the last two M&P conferences have coincided with the political upheavals of the past 12 months, making the day something of a barometer for the trade’s mood: last year the energy and optimism of a youthful and diverse audience contrasted with the national mood of uncertainty and insularity that followed the Brexit vote; this year there was a sense of determination and resolution helped by last week’s unexpected election result that showed, among other things, how social media can have an impact. Last year we talked about the need to make a difference, and this year we showed that we did. This was also true outside of publishing, with the “This Girl Can” campaign, run by Sport England to get women active and presented at the conference by behaviour change consultant Tanya Joseph, demonstrating that when research - in this case, into why women are put off exercising - and money are combined with a desire to change consumer behavour, something remarkable can take place. Some in the room rightly questioned whether publishing could pull off a similar trick around books and reading.
But it is not just about the timing: it is also about the people. To be in this space is to be switched on to the possibilities of an ever-changing marketplace and alive to the world, with platforms such as Refinery29, Joe.co.uk and Instagram showing that - alongside audio - there are new ways of delivering content to audiences big and small. Here the friction between the two disciplines helps: marketing might have the cash and the smarts, but publicity has the passion and the ability to roll with the punches. Most important, both sides know that there is no place to hide: though there is joy in a well-executed creative, campaigns are rightly judged on sales. It is do or die. These people are as hard as nails.
That this matters has always been true, but in today’s busy and noisy world, it clearly matters more.
These people can.
Philip Jones is editor of The Bookseller.