Louisa Danquah, the IPG’s guest at our recent Conference under an initiative with the Society of Young Publishers, reflects on the day
If one message became clear during the course of the IPG's Autumn Conference, it was the importance of branding: knowing what your brand is and how it can help you succeed. As a Conference first-timer I was intrigued to find speakers from outside the publishing industry tackle this issue—but their expertise got me thinking about the future of branding in publishing.
Richard Huntington, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, started the Conference by busting some myths about branding. He showed us that good brands are fluid and able to adapt to current trends, and that in times of social change smaller brands can make a big impact. What stood out for me was his distinction between the brand of a book and the brand of a publisher: the difference, say, between the Diary of a Wimpy Kid brand and the brand of Puffin.
Facebook’s Ed Couchman emphasised that brands need to be quick to capture consumers’ attention. We scroll through our social media feeds much faster on our phones than on our laptops, and young people do so much faster than older people. Fun fact: we can read an average of 300 words per minute and up to 500 if we train! When using storytelling apps like Instagram and Snapchat to advertise books, it’s always better to fit in with what’s trending rather than stand out.
A story of successful branding came from Tim Williams of Edward Elgar Publishing, the current Fox Williams Independent Publisher of the Year. I learned in this session that building a publishing brand is sort of a paradox: it takes good books to make one, but you also need one to get writers who are going to make the best books in the first place. This is even more difficult for academic publishers with niche audiences, but the maintenance of Edward Elgar's brand is part of its success: it has become known for high-quality work, which is useful in making connections with other publishers.
Other Conference talks focused on the ways publishers can use different forms of media to advertise their books. John Lomas-Bullivant of Kickback Media encouraged publishers to think carefully about their TV rights, and how their books might work as TV shows and films during the publication process. A following talk by BBC Radio 4’s Di Speirs showed that passion is the most important thing when pitching your books for radio.
A talk on diversity looked to the future of publishing. Janetta Otter-Barry discussed the progress that has been made and what still needs to be done to achieve equity in publishing. Statistics about the state of publishing in the US show that in 2016 there were more books published about animals than books published about BAME people. This influences the way we see characters in books, as more often than not we assume characters in books are white when their race is not described. For publishing to continue to thrive we have to publish books with more diverse characters, written by authors from marginalised backgrounds, so everyone has a chance to tell their stories.
Attending the IPG Autumn Conference was an invaluable experience, and I look forward to using the knowledge I’ve gained in my first publishing role!
Louisa Danquah is a member of the Society of Young Publishers and the recent recipient of the first BAME scholarship from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Bent Agency.