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Publicity Building Blocks: Create the Best Campaign for Each Book

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Did you ever play with blocks when you were a kid? You always used the same set, but you mixed and matched the pieces differently every time you built something. Constructing a publicity campaign directed to consumers is similar.

There are four major types of general consumer publicity campaigns: national, regional, local, and grassroots. Let’s take a look at the core building blocks for each one, bearing in mind that they can be mixed and matched in infinite variations.

National consumer campaigns. A national campaign means publicity that reaches the entire country. It can consist of three building blocks:

    • Print coverage via national newspapers, magazines, syndicated columnists, and wire services
    • Broadcast coverage via network, syndicated, and national cable television talk shows, and network and syndicated radio outlets
    • A media tour, in which an author does local print and broadcast interviews coast to coast, visiting a city per day

Regional consumer campaigns. A regional campaign targets a specific part of the country, such as the Midwest, deep South, or northeastern seaboard. Regional campaigns have two building blocks:

    • Print outlets, such as daily and community newspapers, newsletters, and magazines
    • Broadcast media, like local network affiliate and regional cable television shows, and regional radio shows

Local consumer campaigns. A local publicity campaign, which is sometimes called a market-specific campaign, targets one city. Local campaigns can use two building blocks:

    • Print coverage in local daily newspapers, weekly community papers, newsletters, and city journals and magazines
    • Broadcast placements with network affiliate, regional cable, and local independent television shows, and local radio programs

Grassroots consumer campaigns. Grassroots campaigns are similar to local campaigns, except they target much smaller markets, such as rural towns and little villages scattered across the map. These campaigns can be made up of two blocks:

    • Print
    • Broadcast

Because I need a quick way to refer to each of these blocks in the context of the campaigns I’m about to describe, I’ve assigned each of them a letter name.

A = National print

B = National broadcast

C = National media tour

D = Print in a targeted region

E = Broadcast in a targeted region

F = Local print in one city

G = Local broadcast in one city

H = Local print in a small town or village

I = Local broadcast in a small town or village

Strategies for Big Books

Imagine that we’re publicizing a book called The Road to Fame by a famous Hollywood agent. It’s a career guide for young hopefuls who want to break into the entertainment business. Which combination of building blocks do we use?

Imagine further that the estimated print run is 40,000 copies. The strongest laydown of the book is in New York and Los Angeles, the country’s entertainment hubs. The author has extensive interview experience and will make time to participate in the publicity process. The target demographic for this book is adults ages 18 and up, ranging from struggling performance artists to future directors, producers, and agents. The book’s pub date is June.

In this particular case, I’d recommend doing national and local print and broadcast out of New York and Los Angeles. If we look at it in terms of building blocks, that would be blocks A, B, F, and G.

Although the initial print run is over 35,000 copies, and therefore qualifies the book for an author media tour, there are circumstances that weigh against it. For one thing, the books are to be most heavily distributed in New York and Los Angeles. The sell-in in other markets doesn’t justify touring. Additionally, most of the book buyers in the target demographic live in those two cities. Concentrating on national and local television, radio, newspapers, and magazines within them maximizes visibility to our desired audience. With a strong budget and no tour, more dollars can go to promotions–perhaps a literary contest or personal appearances, among a myriad of other publicity-generating events.

Let’s explore another example. We’re publicizing a book on surviving infidelity, called Caught in the Act and written by a renowned marriage counselor. A native of Chicago, the author is eager to promote the book. Its initial print run is 50,000 copies, with even distribution throughout the country. The demographic for this book is married women who have committed adultery or been victimized by it.

Reflecting on the information we have, I’d suggest doing national print and broadcast, a 10-city media tour, and local Chicago print and broadcast. That would be building blocks A, B, C, F, and G. Let’s examine why this combination makes the most sense.

Caught in the Act addresses a topic that affects millions of women all across the country. National print and broadcast coverage is crucial for reaching massive audiences throughout the country and initiating a buzz about the book, and the subject is a juicy one from the media’s perspective. However, with an initial print run of 50,000 copies, we need more than just national exposure. National exposure can get the ball rolling, but we’ll lose the momentum if we stop there. That’s where the tour comes in. Once we get the author on national television and radio shows, and in big newspapers and magazines, we can use that visibility as a springboard for the media tour. The media tour heightens the excitement market by market and gives the author an opportunity to reach people on a much more personal level.

Rounding out the strategy, local print and broadcast interviews in the author’s hometown are critical from both marketing and human vantage points. Hometown PR at the end of a tour creates a huge local media blitz, which parlays itself into more national exposure. Additionally, and probably most important, it’s a terrific morale booster for the author, who is likely tired and running out of steam by the tail end of the campaign. The hometown hero’s welcome provides an emotional and spiritual lift that empowers the author to keep the PR going.

As this example indicates, national print and broadcast followed by a media tour, and culminating in hometown PR, is one of the old-fashioned recipes for creating a New York Times bestseller. For this campaign combination to be effective, however, the following elements must be in place: an initial print run of at least 35,000 copies, subject matter that is newsworthy and relevant to a broad audience, and strong author credibility and media savvy. Even with all those components, there are still no guarantees with publicity. But if you use your judgment and logically analyze the variables, you’ll choose the most intelligent combination of campaign building blocks. After that, it’s about perseverance, persistence, flexibility, moxie, timing, and yes, a little bit of luck.

The Incredible Expanding Campaign

Many authors adamantly believe that if their books aren’t available all over the country, they won’t be successful. That isn’t true. Not every book should be widely distributed coast to coast right out of the gate. Often, an expanding regional approach that begins with clusters of grassroots markets, graduates to groups of smaller-to-midsize cities, and culminates with national laydown and media offers the greatest promise.

Sometimes a publicist is in a position to contribute early on, at the distribution phase. This is often the case with self-publishers who bring in PR people as marketing consultants at the initial stage of a project. I’ve always enjoyed having that kind of input. One hypothetical example of an expanding regional campaign shows why it’s the most effective blueprint for action and what building blocks to use to pull it off.

A moderately capitalized self-publisher is developing a book called Mommy Why Won’t They Play with Me and has brought us on board at the developmental stage to spearhead tBre ublicity, public relations, and promotions. Beautifully illustrated, the book is targeted to families with kids who are classroom outcasts. The author is a third-grade teacher in a small Midwestern town.

The publisher doesn’t have the resources for a large initial print run. The first printing is 5,000 copies. Remember the old saying, “It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond”? The same applies here. If the publisher scatters the 5,000 copies in bookstores all across the country, distribution is diluted. Even if all the books sold in one week, it wouldn’t create a stir. A few copies would sell here, a few there, but these little blips wouldn’t be noticed in the marketplace or by the press, and the book couldn’t make any regional bestseller lists.

If, on the other hand, the press concentrated distribution in one specific region of the country, such as the Midwest, sales would draw attention from both the media and the publishing industry. It’s simple logic. If 20 people attend a large party, no one notices when those 20 people leave. But if 20 people attend a small party, everyone comments when they walk out the door.

With that understanding in mind, I’d recommend a combination of H, I, D, E, A, and B building blocks to the publisher.

The first step would be choosing five grassroots Midwestern towns that border each other and distribute 1,000 copies of the book, through a limited number of bookstores, in each of them. The author should do local print and broadcast interviews in these small markets, along with readings in schools and nontraditional outlets. Each time the author makes these personal appearances, camera crews and photographers should be invited to attend and cover the events. Remember, we’re talking little markets here, where a visiting author is often considered big news. The whole emphasis should be on sell-through of the initial 5,000 copies. This increases the chances of the book hitting regional bestseller lists.

As soon as the 5,000 copies are sold, a press release should go to all the local print media in the distribution region, as well as to the national publishing trades, especially Publishers Weekly, touting the story of how Mommy Why Won’t They Play with Me is touching lives in the heartland. The goal is to generate as many press clippings as possible to prepare for phase two of this campaign strategy.

With industry and grassroots press coverage secured, the next step is assembling a video reel and clip book to entice producers and reporters in our next region. We should keep doing the campaign, region by region, until we’ve done two or three parts of the country, then begin increasing the size of the markets with each concentrated press push, moving on to five cities in the South or Northeast. In a nutshell, you start out in clusters of small towns, graduate to groups of reasonably sized cities, then use the excitement generated in these regions to ignite national media and bookstore chain interest.

The expanded regional campaign is a systematic approach to building a book region by region, until it clicks on a national level. It’s cost effective because it can work with several smaller print runs, as opposed to one large run at the outset. It strengthens a book’s bestseller-list potential. And, because the campaign is spread out over a relatively long period, it provides continual fodder for press coverage.

Tailored to Fit

How do you know which types of campaigns are best for a particular book? Carefully examine such variables as:

    • Initial print run
    • Budget
    • Author expertise and interview ability
    • Target demographic
    • Distribution details
    • Newsworthiness
    • Time lines
    • Logistical concerns (such as author availability)

Then use logic. With a book that’s highly publicizable, the rule of thumb is to start out with national media, then segue into a tour or local press. On the other hand, if you’re promoting a book that’s more obscure or targets a narrower demographic, you may want to start out small with grassroots and local media before pitching national print and broadcast. Some books are best served by an aggressive regional campaign. Think about how publicity, public relations, and promotions can be tailored to enhance the strengths and compensate for the weaknesses of each specific book.

I’d like to share a final secret with you about campaign choices. Be resourceful. For example, if you’re publicizing a book that could benefit greatly from a media tour, but there’s no budget for it, you can generate similar excitement by doing radio and newspaper phoners in 10 or 20 markets, plus national television. No matter what obstacle is placed in front of you, stop for a moment, analyze all the elements, ponder each of the building blocks we’ve discussed, then unleash your creative acumen and engineer a campaign.

Occasionally you may have to go on a limb in support of a daring idea. Take the risk! Publicity is about courage and imagination.

Jodee Blanco has publicized dozens of books that became regional and national bestsellers. The author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Please Stop Laughing at Me, she was a founding partner and former president of the PR firm Blanco & Peace. This article is excerpted from the new edition of her book The Complete Guide to Book Publicity. To reach her, call 312/961-3430 or e-mail tbg32@aol.com. To order The Complete Guide, send $19.95 plus $5 for shipping and handling (New York residents must add sales tax) to Allworth Press, 10 E. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010; visit www.allworth.com; or order toll-free from 800/491-2808.

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