Marketing Strategy of the Year Shortlist Spotlight
By Caitlin Davies, Danielle Hernandez and Georgia Rees
The much-anticipated British Book Awards will be taking place on the 23 May in a hybrid ceremony. With a wide range of campaigns nominated for the accolade of Marketing Strategy of the Year, we delve into those which particularly caught our eye.
Caleb Azumah Nelson’s tender and emotional Open Water has captivated a large audience, accompanied by a successful marketing campaign. Shortlisted for demonstrating “how great marketing can quickly position new voices as major literary talents”, marketing leads Alexia Thomaidis and Zoe Coxon’s strategy of consulting cultural confidence experts, sharing proofs and a video trailer particularly stood out to the awarding body, The Bookseller. Viewed by thousands across social media, the trailer features Bridgerton breakout star Martins Imhangbe. It captures the emotional depth of the novel, offering a glimpse into the protagonists’ relationship. Sending proofs to the right bloggers and booksellers can create the needed excitement to propel a book to success on publication day and Open Water has been no different. Proof copies showcased Nelson’s “beautiful” writing style, as described by Queenie author Candice Carty-Williams.
This category recognises the challenges endured by marketing teams throughout the year, as the landscape is ever-changing. Thomaidis and Coxon’s strategy has enabled Nelson’s literary debut to stand out in the challenging year and continue to succeed during 2022. Open Water has won numerous awards, including Costa First Novel Award 2021 and Bad Form Book of the Year. Its continual success is celebrated on social media, with awards announced on Instagram, featuring the images of book bloggers to accompany these announcements. The trailer was again used to announce the release of the paperback copy, highlighting how core elements seen earlier in the campaign continue to sustain the excitement around Nelson’s novel.
Abigail Dean’s breakout debut, Girl A created quite the ripple amongst the crime and thriller community, thanks in no small amount to the bold campaign led by HarperCollins marketing duo Abbie Salter and Sarah Shea. Despite entering the market during a time of enormous upheaval, the self-coined “Team A” managed to push half a million copies in sales towards the end of 2021. The campaign has been long running – Dean first posted about the upcoming novel in November 2019 – and it hasn’t stopped. A new wave of publicity came with paperback publication in September 2021, helped enormously by Girl A being awarded Waterstones’ October Thriller of the Month.
The team played heavily on the visual memorability of the novel, with the large yellow ‘A’ from the front cover becoming the book’s key form of branding. Bookshops were sent large ‘A’ sculptures and point of sale tote bags. A collaboration with Jack Arts led to three eye-catching billboards along the streets of London, Manchester and Glasgow, all emblazoned with the yellow ‘A’.
Dean’s team have fought hard to get Girl A out there, with Dean appearing on numerous podcasts and virtual events, including a Waterstones-hosted In Conversation with Emma Gannon. In fact, the campaign has been so successful that Girl A is in the works to be adapted into a limited series by Chernobyl director Johan Renck.
On the shortlist for the first time is 404Ink, an alternative indie publisher founded in 2016 by freelancers Heather McDaid and Laura Jones. 404Ink are nominated for their creative marketing strategies whilst promoting their new non-fiction series Inklings, a collection of short books aiming to address eight timely and important topics in a compact form.
Launching a full series over the last year has been an impressive achievement for the small but mighty team of two and one that certainly has not followed the usual publishing template. Starting with a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over £20,000, followed by a little help from a new Creative Scotland initiative and slow lead times that allowed them to publish the titles incrementally, this campaign was set to be an interesting journey from inception.
The eight colourful, retro cover designs not only succeeded in complementing each other as a set but allowed for many attention-grabbing posts on social media. Tired of the “cutesy photos of books in good lighting next to a perfect flat white” the founders of 404Ink have always set out to shake things up with their sassy and honest social media accounts – their fresh perspective shines through on their feeds featuring selfies and personal interviews from the authors, teasers of fresh manuscripts and reposts from readers enjoying the books themselves. It might not feel as curated as other pockets of Instagram, but these marketing tactics and author-led activities work to reflect some of the publisher's community values and have helped establish the 404 Ink’s brand as a counter-culture publisher.
Other nominees for this category include And It Was Beautiful by Phil Hay and Marcelo Bielsa, Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Pinch of Nom Comfort Food by Catherine Allinson and Kay Featherstone, The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones and Dave Grohl’s fantastic autobiography The Storyteller.