Marketing and Publicity Conference: Collaboration and experimentation

As a marketer at Foyles, I used to attend the Bookseller’s Marketing & Publicity Conference every year. I found it fascinating if daunting, especially in the early stages of my career when so many terms were new to me, and the idea of ‘networking’ with people I barely knew had me hiding out in the bathroom stalls. At that stage, my primary goal was simply to understand what my publishing colleagues were going through - I hoped this would make me a better retail partner - as few of the sessions back then took my consumer-focussed needs into account.

Fast-forward to 2015, where the consumer is king whether you are publisher, retailer or author, and where marketers and publicists carry much of the weight of communicating across traditional and new channels. A proliferation of customers and platforms has made our job descriptions more complex than ever. This presents a tricky challenge for the programming of a conference like M&P. How do you hone content for one day of learning when almost everything feels equally important?

The brilliant Porter Anderson gave me some advice - ‘don’t try to do everything,’ he said, ‘pick one angle and go with it.’ He was almost certainly right, but I ignored him. Maybe it’s the range bookseller in me, but I feel you can pack quite a bit into a small space if you curate it properly. In programming this conference I’ve felt if I can get the right people to speak across the issues, and vary the timings a bit, then we can cover a lot of ground relevant to everyone. I’ve said this elsewhere but to my mind conferences are at their best when they function as a starting point - when speakers are inspiring enough to galvanise, and practical enough to provide the tools for follow-through. This isn’t to say I’ve covered everything, but that I truly feel the sessions on 30 June will have high relevance for everyone attending. For the topics where that isn’t the case, we’ve introduced the 5x5 sessions - five experts speaking for five minutes on five rules in a given field. Highly informative, but also highly-speedy if they’re not up your street.

Working from last year’s delegate feedback and also myriad meetings with lovely, obliging M&P teams at the beginning of 2015, we’ve broken the day into four main themes: Rules of Engagement, Under Pressure, Influencer Afternoon and Brand Ambitions. These themes touch on concerns about D2C, time and budget constraints, engaging key reviewers and retailers, and a variety of questions on the sticky subject of publisher and author branding. 

The speakers come from a variety of backgrounds. We’ve all noticed that publishing tends a bit towards the navel-gazing, and the only way out of that is to bring in external voices. People like Ciaran Brennan, PR Director at Sports Interactive who will tell us how the game Football Manager classifies and mobilises their fanbase, or Rohan Gunatillake, whose bestselling Buddhify app was a true community-grown phenomenon (and is the only thing that reliably keeps my heart rate  down), or Amy Kean whose work at Havas Media Labs is all about being forward-thinking no matter the industry. And in an tidy integration of inside and out, former Folio MD and director of forward thinking inc Toby Hartwell will speak to 101 Agency co-founder Phil Rumbol about how other industries are tackling the challenges that publishing faces - challenges voiced on video by key members of the trade.

But at the same time as we suffer from a bit of self-centredness, we also can tend towards the self-deprecating, and it is worth remembering the unbelievable resource we have in each other’s wisdom — there are some questions that only we as publishers can answer. I hope that hearing from the range of publishers big and small on conference day - everyone from Vintage to Pushkin Press, Hodder to Profile, Faber to Melville House - will hammer home the resources we have, and often forget, right in front of us. You’ll also hear briefly from our children’s editor Charlotte Eyre, who will be announcing another way we can celebrate and grow industry successes.

And what about these breakout sessions? I’m incredibly excited for them - mainly as I love an experiment. A key theme at this year’s London Book Fair was collaboration, of working together towards the collective goal of selling books. I obviously like to feel that the whole day is a big collaboration, despite the divide between stage and audience, but these sessions take the concept just a step further. They’re an attempt to see what happens if we come together with a shared concern - can we set some solutions in motion? Can we make a few contacts for specific purposes?

Or maybe, as I know I’d have loved in those early days of networking paralysis, it’s just a nice excuse to share your lunch break with someone new.

Miriam Robinson is the programme director for The Bookseller Publicity and Marketing Conference. Tickets for this year's event, held on Tuesday 30th June at London's Southbank, can be purchased on the website.