Agents of change: The year of campaigning differently

Every year at the start of conference programming, I am asked to come up with a theme—something to help orient my own thinking and, crucially, to frame the audience's experience on the day. This year I had an inkling of an idea, and I presented it to the team at The Bookseller: "It's going to be about... change."

I was met with some concerned stares. That's your brilliant idea? Change? What is this, 2008? They were right. It was vague. And kind of boring. So I did what most of us do when a concept isn't quite working—I went away, thought it through, and banged my head against several walls. It can't just be change, I thought. We've done change. We've ridden the waves. I have to do something else.

Only here's the thing. I kept coming back to change. Not just how we're adapting to changes in technology and routes to readers, or changes in the media landscape or workplace culture, but something else. Something different. This year, more than ever, we are making the change. Be it through campaign activism, challenging workplace norms, or shifting the diversity of reviewers and platforms, marketers and publicists are becoming agents of change in all sorts of new ways.

This year's theme of Changing Gears is a real reflection of industry change in all its forms, and the speakers will all be addressing some element of change in their presentations. Whether it's Kajal Odedra, the UK director of Change.org, who will be drawing on her experience galvanising millions to action, or teams from HarperCollins, Orion and Latvian Literature taking us through what it means to change an author's (or a nation's) profile. Whether it's James Spackman challenging us to revitalise our pitches, or Waterstones' Rosie Beaumont-Thomas demonstrating how inclusive event programming can change and grow the audiences for reading. Our speakers will talk through adapting to changing technologies, changes in retail relations (as with Amazon's marketing services), and, in Alex Clough's keynote, how we hold on to our creativity and humanity in an increasingly data-driven world.

Anxiety and work-life balance were chief among the concerns that teams brought up in the early stages of conference planning. It's not the kind of thing we normally discuss at conferences—there's a pressure only to present a pretty face, to showcase the best of the business and cram as many facts and how-tos into the day as possible. But each year this comes up, and it felt like the time to address it properly. The Flip's panel will bring both industry and mental health perspectives into the conversation, and in these pages we have also collated snippets of wisdom from many of the day's speakers as to how they maintain that elusive balance when work threatens to overwhelm us.

No single day can encapsulate everything we need to learn and tackle, so I'll take some guidance from our closing keynote, Elizabeth Day, author of How to Fail, and admit it was impossible to cover everything and admit it was impossible to cover everything I wanted. But there is so much goodness here, so much wisdom and so much to learn. I can't wait to get started.

View the full programme for The Bookseller's Marketing & Publicity Conference 2019 and book your tickets here.