Book Prize PR in adversity with FMcM

by Caroline Guillet

This article is based on a panel organised during The Bookseller’s M&P Conference 2020. The session – “Eyes on the Prize, Takeaways from Book Prize PR on Working Culture” – welcomed FMcM team members Kealey Rigden, Daniel Kramb, Ashton Bainbridge and Annabel Robinson.

FMcM spans the worlds of publishing, prizes, festivals, NGOs and corporate partnerships and uses life-long expertise in the arts industry to work with the most inspiring organisations. When the UK entered lockdown, events started to be rendered digitally, but what about Book Prizes who strive from their red carpets and glamourous line-ups? FMcM had the huge responsibility of taking The Rathbones Folio Prize and The British Book Awards to the screen, whilst a pandemic was taking the world’s full attention.

The Rathbones Folio Prize

As Zoom was not yet as commonplace as it is today, the team had to be proactive and think ahead to bring agility and flexibility to an immediate problem. Their strategy was, on the surface, simple: a digital-only version of the ceremony with strong media partnerships. However, as imitating the anticipation and excitement that such event would normally convey appeared challenging, they found a hook on being the first ever book prize ceremony rendered digitally. As the media landscape was heavily populated with coronavirus news and government advice, finding the space for interviews and features in national outlets was a challenge, but that was remarkably handled by the team.

The ceremony was held on Twitter for 30 minutes, carried out by several ‘tweeples’ and punctuated by self-recorded acceptance speeches. Written pieces supplemented the ceremony on the website, and the grand final came as the winner was announced live on BBC Radio 4. 

Overall, FMcM has had a good engagement from authors, agents, media outlets and publishers alike, creating a sense of community and opening up the creativity and innovation facilitated by online events.

The Nibbies/British Book Awards

The biggest challenge had been identified as finding solutions to bring ‘stickiness’ to the event or giving the audience a good enough reason to stay. For that reason, the FMcM team used individual strengths to serve a common purpose and client.

Promoting authors

A partnership with At Home with 4 Indies was initiated throughout June with live videos of the shortlisted authors; in normal times, this may not have gone that smoothly with authors’ busy schedules and diverse locations. This partnership was used to gain mentions and coverage in various media outlets, but equally strengthen the reader-author relationship and boost sales for bookshops facing hard times. During the day, there was a focus on children’s authors to support parents who were struggling with home-schooling and entertaining their children; this created a positive engagement and sense of community.

A multi-media campaign

The different strategies implemented – news, social media and retail campaigns – all talked to each other to create an overall bigger impact. As a digital edition, the team did not have to liaise with red carpet or hotel management which allowed to concentrate the effort on other pressing action points.

A specific focus

Two shortlists – indie bookshop and small press of the year – saw a great PR focus as strong connections within these sectors gave a broader reach to the prize. Relevant features in the media generated further interest from other outlets and the reputation of the award shone interest on the indie sector, when they more than ever needed exposure.

A new asset

Some of the main aspects of prize campaigns are shortlist profiles, and the reason why the FMcM connected them with media partners. All were tailored to each list, and partners were committed to create engaging content to promote their shortlist, books and authors on their social media channels.

A major news campaign

On top of traditional press releases, exclusive content was shared across the news, such as Candice Carty-Williams’ acceptance speech with a timely BLM focus. Features on major media outlets enabled to put out strong and positive stories, again using the prize’s reputation to put the spotlight on under-represented voices.

A retail campaign 

Such as Waterstones, a connection with major book retailers allowed to build on customer excitement, ready for winner announcements.

Broadly speaking, these two campaigns showed that focusing on a multi-media strategy fed into an all-round maximum exposure. Tailoring campaigns to the specific needs and values of the event/book is crucial, and adapting to a changing digital landscape is challenging, but a valuable PR experience.

Finally, takeaways of a successful PR campaign and efficient working culture when facing adversity are multiple:

  1. The best ideas happen by ‘accident’ which is hard to achieve when working remotely 
  2. A team effort is key and should be based on everyone’s own expertise and skillset. Teamwork brings different approaches into perspective and allows to encourage and empower each other.
  3. Don’t struggle on your own: use group dynamics to drive new ideas, it is crucial to normalise asking for help and feedback in order to improve
  4. Allow some space for socialising: PR is all about good relationships in general

About the author of this article

Caroline Guillet is a Digital Publishing Master’s student at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing. Her interest in publishing and technology has led her to research the digitisation of paratext for her postgraduate dissertation. She is presently working as a Book Production Executive at Aelurus Publishing, a small independent publisher of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04 Aug 2020 around 8am

Last edited: 04 08 2020