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What do publishers want their blogs to do?

October 19, 2010

It must be a hard life being a corporate blogger in a publishing company. How free can you be? What are the brand constraints? What guidelines do you have to follow? How do you write in the style of your brand? For publishing companies – where corporate brand is often overwhelmed by those of their authors (or the ones who are any good) – it’s hard to have a presence that’s effective. How can a publishing industry blog be itself? At the same time, what do you want your blog to do?

Cue the rather fine Penguin Blog. This funky little flapper, waddling in the corporate black, white and orange of Allen Lane’s original railway paperbacks is pretty natty. The little penguin stares out at you, making you feel warm and cosy. There are links to books, to the Penguin collectors’ club, useful links out and the great thing about it is that it appears to be freely written. Written without fear. As a penguin behaves on an ice flow, so Penguin behaves in the blogosphere: curiously comic but with a serious, streamlined edge.

As David Meerman Scott says in his “New Rules of Marketing and PR“, “don’t just send news releases when “big news” is happening, find good reasons to send them all the time“. Absolutely. People can spot blind promotion a mile off. We know the sort: endless promotions of new books and special offers on Twitter, poorly-written keyword-poor servile script, otiose over-commercialism. Publishers who craft this sort of stuff will just get ignored.

Context and content is all. Cambridge University Press USA takes a less funky approach to all things blogging in This Side of the Pond. Some of their stuff is, as you would expect, probably a little too earnest and academic but it engages its target readership – and that’s the key thing.

Elsewhere, Hodder produces a well crafted affair in their tamely-named Blogpost. Combining author ramblings with some neat, though not oppressive, links to books and other content, this site is probably an archetypal publishers blog. It brings together a sense of Hodder as a publishing “house” while at the same time engaging authors to bring together a sense of cultural wellbeing – not to mention a nice bit of SEO featuring key authors’ names.

So what’s your blog about? Do you have a blog? If not, why not? In these new days of emotional brand delivered through online context, publishers who avoid credible social media are digging an ever-deeper hole for themselves. Surrendering brand ownership ever more to online retailers, turning their back even more robustly against their end users.

Of course, it’s well-known in publishing – where margins are tight – that spending on “brand” is seen as a waste of money. This is often because brand is misunderstood – and all to often seen as over-expensive limited-life outputs such as posters on the London Underground or spurious and wasteful advertising in trade journals.

But brands and brand strategy will prove to be the publishing high ground in the years to come. Blogs are a key part of creating brand perception if publishers want to stay relevant to their readers. So what do you want your blog to do? Sell your books or state your conscience? Dicker in cyberspace or create emotional real estate?

People don’t like being sold to – they prefer engagement. They can spot overt commercialism a mile off. But if they see you as a participant in their journey then they will follow. As David Meerman Scott says of these “new rules”: ” Here’s how to tell if the new rules are right for you. Consider your goals for communicating via marketing and public relations. Are you buying that Super Bowl ad to score great tickets to the game? Are you designing  a creative magazine as to win an award for your agency? Do you hope to create a book of press clips from mainstream media outlets to show your bosses? Does your CEO want to be on TV? Are you doing PR to meet Oprah? If the answers to these questions are “yes” then the new rules are not for you.”

So it’s crucial for publishers to think about brand reach, brand strategy, brand involvement. If publishing companies cannot take their mindset beyond old models of “here’s a book now buy it” then they are going to hit the wall pretty soon. It’s not too late to start engaging with your readers – but the key word here is engagement. Old fashioned didactic marketing is no longer the way forward.

Note to readers: The New Rules of Marketing and PR is published by John Wiley & Son. The link in this article takes you to the Red Page Marketing online Amazon shop but of course you can purchase this book anywhere you please! It’s a great – and invigorating – read.

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