A Song of Fire and Water

There’s a line in All About Eve where Birdy, the cynical old dresser replies to Bette Davis’ characters protestations that Eve Harrington does love her with the line “sure, like an agent with only one client”. 

It came to mind while reading some of the closing remarks to the PRH UK announcement earlier this week:

 “This is our unique opportunity for Penguin Random House UK to come together across our publishing businesses as one company around the consumer. We are in effect creating the blueprint for a publisher as a consumer brand.” 

It's that image of the surrounded consumer...

It also recalled the Harper Collins Fire and Water launch over fifteen years ago (so many good intentions from publishers, so many millions wasted -so little actual impact). Penguin are definitely in a different position from everyone else - no one is ever going to buy a HarperCollins tea towel after all. 

But, coming as it does, at the end of a lengthy, and I am sure sensible, management reshuffle at PRH its hard not to see it as a more a matter of wishful thinking than of actual strategy.

Apart from anything else what do they actually mean by 'publisher as a consumer brand' other than selling a few tea towels - which is not to be knocked by any means but doesn't do justice to the idea of 'one company around the consumer'.

When one looks in other enetertainment industries for record labels, games publishers or film studios that are brands there really are only two of any real size.

Corporate giants like Universal, Emi, Sony, Warner, NBC, Fox, Paramount Electronic Arts and Activision certainly have a brand presence of sorts, but their real discretionary impact on the consumer is effectively zero - no one buys a product because of the money that funded its marketing. They buy into something far richer and more complicated than that - they buy in to creativity.

There are in fact only two major players in the global entertainment business who really are consumer brands: Disney and Nintendo. And the point about those two companies is that they are so much more than publishing platforms - they own their own hardware and IP and that is the core of their business - with Disney its parks and Characters with Nntendo its consoles and characters. Each of these companies has a mood and an ethos which their fans adore - it is that brand value that is essential.

So if PRH really are serious about becoming a consumer brand then they need to significantly change their entire business model, because they are a long, long way from being a Disney or a Nintendo. It would be magnificent if they were serious about doing this, but one thing is absolutely certain, shuffling the corporate deckchairs isn't going to get them off the Titanic.