Throwing Shade: James shrugs off critics to deliver another hit with Cornerstone pair

Throwing Shade: James shrugs off critics to deliver another hit with Cornerstone pair

E L James’ first standalone since her record-breaking Fifty Shades titles may appear to have been a sure-fire bestseller but, as the two women behind her campaign reveal, the proposition for The Mister proved a tad trickier.

There is a certain pragmatism required to promote a new novel by E L James. With only 12 weeks from announcement to publication, Cornerstone director of publicity and media relations Charlotte Bush and deputy marketing director Sarah Ridley knew there would be elements of the press and consumer reaction to The Mister—James’ first novel since the Fifty Shades series—which they could control, and elements they would have to let go or work around.

Bush said: "We knew that some media hostility would be inevitable, and that reviewers would come to the book with their minds made up." The team were also concerned about possible "Fifty Shades fatigue", and whether James’ most devoted fans would willingly explore new storylines. Their strategy needed to deflect from the former, and blast through the latter.

James’ availability for PR was limited: she was scheduled to be in the US for the global launch, and was wary of the UK press, where she had not had an easy run with critics of her Fifty Shades titles. The team maximised its time with her, beginning with the London Book Fair, where photographers captured James meeting her international publishers in one place. This reinforced a key message about the global reach of her work, and created valuable buzz on social media.

Bush also focused on targeting key media she knew would be most likely to deliver positive coverage along with impacting sales. James pre-recorded an interview for ITV’s "Lorraine" to run on publication, and on her return from the US appeared on BBC Radio 2 with presenter Steve Wright. Bush also secured interviews with Elizabeth Day for You magazine in the Mail on Sunday, the T2 cover in the Times, plus other Q&As in the Metro, Sun on Sunday and Hello! This positive coverage was complemented by key features, including in the Sun, which used readers instead of critics to review the novel.

The rest of television, radio and print was left to a marketing blitz, masterminded by Ridley. National TV advertising ran on ITV throughout the week of publication on "Good Morning Britain", "Loose Women", "Lorraine" and "This Morning", all shows with a strong female audience aged 35 and over. The day before publication the team ran four five-second adverts with the message "He’s Coming" on "This Morning", then shifted its messaging to "He’s Here" for a week of 20-second television ads from publication day.

On radio, the team ran a national campaign with radio mogul Global, including live reads from DJs the weekend before launch, announcing that listeners could hear an audio extract on Heart before anyone else. The campaign continued throughout publication week, replaying parts of the extract with a call to action to buy the book. The Penguin Random House audio team supported this regionally, with audiobook ads on Hits Radio in Manchester, Radio City in Liverpool and Free Radio in Birmingham, all areas which, the team says, over-index in terms of audiobook listener numbers. The advertising ran for two weeks, and Audible supported the title with spend on its own social media channels. During these weeks the team ran four-sheet adverts with National Rail 12-sheet advertising with London Underground.

On social media, Bush and her team reached out to key romance bloggers and "bookstagrammers" on Instagram, with chocolate-filled Valentine’s Day packages, while Ridley’s team invested in Facebook and Instagram advertising and created a host of assets, including countdown videos, lifestyle images, character-led videos, adaptations of the outdoor creative and audio extracts.

Event and stunt activity was organised around the book’s setting, with a competition to win a night in a hotel in Chelsea, including £100 towards room service and delivery of the book to the winner’s hotel room at midnight on publication day. The competition garnered 5,219 entries. MyHotel in Chelsea then hosted Cornerstone’s Mister Monday superfan sleepover, complete with shareable elements to engage influencers. The event culminated with a special delivery of the book as the embargo lifted, kicking off a midnight tweetathon and leading to positive reviews on blogs and Amazon.

On publication day, Cornerstone guerilla-dropped a The Mister-branded piano in Sloane Square, where a professional female pianist entertained commuters on their way to work. They held the UK launch event at Chelsea Town Hall, securing romantic novelist Veronica Henry as an interviewer to reinforce the messaging. 

Asked if the team reached their objectives, Ridley said: "We were aiming high—and we got there. There was a real sense of excitement and anticipation for a new book by E L James, and seeing it reach the top of the bestseller lists was brilliant."

E L James’ The Mister was published by Arrow (9781787463608) on 16th April, priced £7.99.