Interview with Kate Neilan, Marketing Executive at Vintage
By Amy Wright and Ana Matute
We interviewed Kate Neilan, Marketing Executive at Vintage, to find out how the Vintage marketing team responds to current events, and the effect that the pandemic has had on marketing plans.
Out of all the campaigns that you have worked on during your six years at Vintage, which has been your favourite?
Of all the campaigns I've worked on, I think my favourite would be the campaign for The Starless Sea by Erin Morgernstern. I was a huge fan of The Night Circus so I was thrilled to hear that a new book was coming from Morgenstern, and it was an amazing opportunity to work on the marketing for the hardback. It was a gift in allowing us to create an immersive and ambitious campaign that would appeal to long-standing fans and people looking for a really gorgeous, fantastical winter read.
As well as paid advertising, we created covetable merch for superfans, commissioned a life-size library door to sit in Waterstones Piccadilly, worked with a storytelling company to create a choose-your-own-adventure style audio experience and worked with Illumicrate to create an exclusive edition, which sold out almost straight away! My highlight was our industry-first event at Wilton's Music Hall in partnership with Waterstones and Lush Book Club, which included bespoke cocktails, cupcakes and themed Lush products to take away.
What encourages the Vintage marketing team to decide to respond to a current event? Are there certain tools you use yourself to keep up to date with popular culture?
We're perhaps a little unusual in that we have a dedicated Vintage brand team who work with marketing and publicity to plan strategy and create content for the VIntage social channels, podcast and newsletter. As well as looking at how they can promote Vintage's books, they are always monitoring current events and trends and keeping an eye on what is most important to Vintage's audience. For example, we know the Vintage audience is very culturally engaged, caring deeply about issues like libraries, equality, social justice and the environment.
In deciding whether to respond to a current event, we consider whether it's appropriate to comment – is Vintage's voice needed on this issue or would another person or brand be better placed – and also whether that response will be meaningful rather than a token gesture. Examples of meaningful responses from Vintage include our ongoing partnership with the Free Books Campaign, our collection for Beauty Banks as part of Kerry Hudson's tour for her book Lowborn or our partnership with Equality Now alongside our publication of The Testaments.
For an event or celebration that takes place annually, how far in advance do you start planning the campaign?
Our brand team plan for seasonal moments well ahead. As you might imagine, our Christmas campaign is planned furthest in advance, usually starting in the late summer, with other regular moments like Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, Easter and Summer Reading planned out a few months ahead.
Would a campaign ever change last minute to accommodate or incorporate current trends/events? If so, how much involvement would the author have in such a change/alteration?
We begin planning our campaigns from acquisition, taking into account the themes and hooks of the book, our sales expectations and how best we can reach people who'll enjoy it. It's usually a very collaborative process, discussing positioning and campaign ideas with the editor, sharing those with the author and agent and developing the plan together. We'll then share our plans a number of times in the run up to publication, building them out as activity is booked in, assets are designed, partnerships are confirmed and so on.
However, those campaigns change all the time as we adapt to changing conditions. That could be COVID-19 related, such as in early 2020 where many people, including myself, pivoted their campaigns to fully online channels in order to reach our target audiences, because of new retailer opportunities or partnerships that arise, or because of the reaction to an event in the media. I would always want an author to be happy with the changes we make. If they've agreed to your plan and approach in principle from the start of your work together, it's much easier to achieve that consensus later on.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of virtual publishing events have diversified the audiences able to attend events. How has this affected marketing plans for upcoming titles?
For marketing, the pandemic has escalated a change that was already happening, as marketing teams look closely at how to make the biggest impact with book buyers in the most efficient, effective way. With precisely targeted digital activations, we can reach people where they are: on their phone, on social media, browsing news and magazine websites, shopping online, listening to podcasts or Spotify, rather than hoping they walk past the right billboard or bus stop.
The same is true for virtual events: it's exciting to go to an event in person but that's not convenient or even possible for many potential audience members due to a whole range of reasons: location, travel time, cost, childcare, access requirements. In terms of marketing for events, we now advertise events more widely online and it also opens up opportunities for capturing video and audio content to use in our campaigns.