Publicity Campaign of the Year

Introduction

The nine campaigns here are already winners at the Publishers’ Publicity Circle’s annual awards, and now face off to be best of the best. A hectic news agenda and the cancellation of events conspired against these 14 publicists—most of them first- timers on the shortlist—but they all found ways to adapt and make their books highly visible across the trade and the wider media too.

Winner

Anna Ridley for 'The Year of Bernardine Evaristo'

Penguin General

Plenty of Booker winners have faded from view after their time in the spotlight, but Penguin General head of comms Anna Ridley’s publicity made Bernardine Evaristo unmissable in 2020.

The year-long campaign achieved vast media coverage—not just in obvious channels such as the Guardian, but in glossies such as Elle and Vogue. Across the year Evaristo gave more than 120 interviews, and made 60 appearances on TV, radio, podcasts, social media and live events. Episodes of “Desert Island Discs” and the “Southbank Show”, an event at the National Theatre and a guest edit of the Sunday Times’ Style magazine were among the highlights. The volume of coverage could have dulled Evaristo’s appeal, but she and Ridley ensured each piece was distinctive. Plus, lockdown gave the indefatigable Evaristo more time to devote to the campaign. She was a powerful voice in conversations about racial injustice, and an influential advocate for other writers of colour and better diversity in publishing.

Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other was the second-bestselling paperback of 2020. “Bernardine was front and centre all year,” said the judges. “The choices of publicity and the complex scheduling were superb. The campaign broke her out of the literary world to make her a rock star of books.”

Judges also congratulated Ridley’s colleagues in the Penguin team—and, of course, Evaristo herself: “She’s a force of nature.”

HIGHLY COMMENDED in this category is Alice Herbert, whose work on Susie Dent’s Word Perfect (John Murray Press) was a masterclass in crisis management. After a print run had to be pulped because of errors, Herbert turned a publisher’s worst nightmare into widespread coverage. “By leaning into the problem, the publicity saved this book,” judges said.

The Shortlist

  • Alice Herbert for Word Perfect by Susie Dent
    John Murray Press
    Publicity for Susie Dent’s Word Perfect (John Murray Press) got off to the worst possible start when a print run based on old files that were strewn with typos had to be pulped—far from ideal given the title. Dent and Alice Herbert responded to the emergency with great diplomacy and tongue-in-cheek, and the crisis became a hook for widespread media coverage that far exceeded what might otherwise have been achieved. Other publicity work effectively leveraged Dent’s TV, social media and podcast profiles.
  • Georgina Moore for Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
    Midas PR
    The campaign for Maggie O'Farrell’s Hamnet (Tinder Press) by Midas PR’s Georgina Moore was eight months in the making, but almost completely upended by the pandemic. Dozens of theatre, bookshop and festival events were pulled, but within weeks Moore and O’Farrell had mastered digital publicity skills, with video content, blog tours and a Twitter party adding to widespread interviews and reviews. The campaign also used Hamnet’s Plague-era setting as a talking point as Covid spread. Sales of the book have topped 200,000.
  • Maura Wilding and Alexandra Layt for My Life in Red and White by Arsene Wenger
    Orion
    Orion’s communications director Maura Wilding was shortlisted for this Award last year, and teamed up with publicity manager—and Arsenal fan—Alexandra Layt on a very effective campaign for My Life in Red and White by Arsene Wenger. It made very good use of Wenger’s limited time and achieved nearly 100 separate pieces of prominent media coverage, including a powerful Times serialisation. It managed to broaden the book’s appeal beyond Arsenal fans and sustain interest through to Christmas, and sales are well into six figures.
  • Anna Ridley for 'The Year of Bernardine Evaristo'
    Penguin General
    Penguin General’s Anna Ridley used Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize triumph in late 2019 as a springboard for publicity throughout 2020. Lockdown, video technology and a very hard-working author combined to create opportunities for massive media coverage, and Evaristo completed well over 100 interviews, spoke at dozens of virtual events and within the trade became a leading voice for better representation of BAME writers. The ‘Year of Bernardine’ campaign made Girl, Woman, Other the seventh biggest selling book of 2020.
  • Olivia Mead and Chloe Davies for The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
    Penguin General
    Penguin General’s campaign for The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman—also shortlisted for the Marketing Strategy of the Year and a couple of Book of the Year categories—lit the fire under the biggest new title of 2020. After making a big splash with its acquisition, Mead and Davies skilfully positioned him not just as a celeb with a book but a serious crime fiction author who was in it for the long run. A steady flow of high profile TV and radio appearances followed.
  • Ella Patel for Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
    Quercus
    Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy hit a nerve in 2020, and Ella Patel’s campaign for Quercus sensitively wove it into conversations about race and Black Lives Matter. It used Saad’s large Instagram following to build a buzz, and positioned the book as a practical solution to racism issues as well as a polemic. Publication brought a wave of interviews and features in the national media and women’s magazines and websites, plus appearances on TV news channels, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and several podcasts.
  • Bethany Carter for While We Can't Hug by Eoin McLaughlin
    Faber & Faber
    Carter and Faber pitched While We Can’t Hug, a picture book by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar, as a source of emotional support for socially distanced children. It used digital animations, a BookTrust partnership and social media to generate 30,000-unit sales in the TCM.
  • Alice Dewing for Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
    Picador
    A translated and challenging Japanese novel was a tough sell in a crowded summer market, but Picador’s campaign for Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs generated extensive word of mouth before release. Proofs, endorsements and well-targeted media coverage amplified the book’s messages.
  • Emma Draude, Annabelle Wright, Sarah Wright & Thi Dinh for Poor by Caleb Femi
    EDPR working on behalf of Penguin Press
    Draude and Wright of the Emma Draude PR agency teamed up with Penguin Press’ Wright and Dinh to take Caleb Femi’s poetry and photography collection Poor well beyond the literary community.