INDIRA BIRNIE, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE
Growing up, expectations were high for Indira Birnie. “My mother, in a very typical Indian mum sort of way, would always say: ‘You will be a doctor.’” Alas, Birine changed at the last moment from a neuroscience degree to study design at university, shifting her path from medicine to, evenutally, publishing. Though if it is any consolation to the elder Birnie, her daughter becomes the first ever marketer named as The Bookseller Shooting Star. Books were a passion, and after graduating Birnie got a part-time job at the Free Word Centre, snagged a couple of publishing work experience stints, before landing a permanent job at Vintage.
Birnie cut her teeth on campaigns for the likes of Salman Rushdie and Colson Whitehead, before moving to the nascent centralised Random House digital marketing department, a model post-merger that was rolled out PRH-wide. Her first huge undertaking at the combined team was about the merger itself: writing copy to announce the news to the public, co-ordinating logistics with international offices, and monitoring social media on the day itself.
She has had four promotions in the past four years, and recently ended a secondment as head of brand at Penguin Classics: “Despite it being a heritage brand, it can be effortlessly cool and modern; the history is central, but we don’t rely on it.” One of the things she is most proud of is a sort of side hustle, the “This is Spoke” podcast. Birnie and a colleague pitched the idea to PRH parent Bertelsmann, which was funding employee cross-departmental projects, and the Gen Z youth-culture podcast has since gained a following both in audio and in real life, with a series of sold-out events
Looking back, being made Penguin social media manager in 2016 was a turning point: “It meant not only reassessing the bigger, strategic picture in terms of adjusting our tone of voice and dreaming up projects like Ask Penguin, where we could connect directly with readers, but being in control of something with so much visibility was helpful in other ways, too. As a South Asian with a working-class background, I don’t really see many other people like myself in publishing... Through running the Penguin social media, especially Twitter, I started tweeting about moments like Eid, Diwali and Hanukkah alongside the usual tweets about Christmas and Easter, and ensuring that content we were creating in the wider team—like list articles for the website, seasonal campaign concepts, or smaller ideas like threaded tweets—was as inclusive as possible.”