Team Spirit in Tumultuous Times: An Interview with Katherine Josselyn
You’ve probably felt the effects of the coronavirus on your publishing job search. But how is the pandemic affecting the way people work within Children’s Publishing? We spoke to Katherine Josselyn, Children’s Publicity Director at Penguin Random House UK, to find out. Here, she gives her thoughts on the subject.
I lead the Children’s PR team. There are 13 of us, and we work closely with the Children’s Marketing team. In an office, I usually sit next to our Marketing Director. We now speak daily, checking in on how our teams are feeling, new acquisition discussions, current and upcoming campaign priorities, budget movements, and mid-term growth strategies (daring to look beyond COVID)…
Today I have our weekly PR meeting, followed by team 121s; a call with an editor to discuss a new potential acquisition; a ‘Sales Surgery’ meeting to discuss creative projects in the pipeline; and a Covers meeting.
I’m regularly in touch with the PR Directors of the adult divisions across Penguin Random House UK to share insights, collaborate on ideas, and manage logistics that affect us all e.g. with sales to manage pre-Christmas author book-signings. I’m working with an adult PR Director on a joint autumn campaign; we share an author who is writing both a children’s and an adult’s book. I liaise with our Corporate Comms and Audiences teams on how we can work together and support educational outreach.
Communication is key at the moment. We moved our team meeting to Mondays to start each week with a check-in. We use Slack to connect quickly on specific topics or to get a quick answer that we would have asked our colleagues aloud in the office. The team is constantly in touch on WhatsApp, Zoom, Slack and email and we’ve had a few socials. Our next is a breakfast book-club where everyone received a book voucher and a food voucher for delivery in their local area.
I’m finding it important to check in with the Marketing Director and our line manager daily. We have a slot just before lunch so we can update one another or pick up something urgently that afternoon. We have regular CEO briefings and have increased the frequency of our meetings with other PR and Marketing teams across the company.
I would like to see hour-long meetings reduced to forty-five mins post-COVID. Meetings have become more action-focused as everyone is Zooming-in – this would be a productive lockdown takeaway.
We introduced a Marketing & PR Daily Snapshot during Lockdown – sharing examples of recent results, ongoing activity, social media engagement – because the teams were suddenly delivering a huge variety of Lockdown-reactive activities that other teams in the Children’s division may not have known about. This snapshot is an effective means of communication: snappy, informative, efficient, that has had positive feedback from other departments. We’ll look to continue it in some form.
We’ve learnt that flexible working works. Our PR and Marketing teams have proven they are easily as effective working flexible hours as within an office and are incredibly agile in reacting to ever-changing situations. Trust and value your colleagues. They are capable of delivering fantastic work in unpredictable situations.
When hiring, I look for people with enthusiasm and energy who want to share what they know and learn from others. People who are proud of what they are good at, recognise how different skills can benefit a team, and have a desire to collaborate to strengthen both the team’s work and their own development. People keen to say, “I’m good at this so I can help here, and my colleague’s excellent at that, so let’s ask them to help us with that part.”
People who want to forge strong working relationships – with authors, illustrators and agents; journalists and community influencers; internal colleagues across departments – and most importantly, people who want to bounce creative ideas off their teammates to find new ways to reach young readers.
Book Review: Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick
Middle Grade – Recommended Reading Age 9–12
Crater Lake is a fabulous and fast-paced adventure for younger readers; a chilling, thrilling middle-grade with suspense, monsters and a nostalgic nod to primary school trips.
This spooky story follows a group of friends on their weekend at the Crater Lake Activity Centre. Our hero Lance and his companions Chets, Mak, Katja and Adrianne must break away from their classmates and teachers who have started to change into something very alien. Their mission: get to the bottom of the mystery around the activity centre, rescue their year group and avoid terrifying creatures. Also, they must not fall asleep!
Although there’s enough adrenaline packed in for young thrill-seekers, this book is also perfect for children looking for a laugh. Humour laces the pages and even when Lance and his friends find themselves in the most desperate of circumstances, it’s guaranteed that one of them will lighten the mood. All of the characters are drawn with enough detail to make them believable, each with their own individual quirks, making them relatable and very real too. Jennifer Killick seems to relish making fun of the clichés in many sci-fi and horror stories. She easily turns the most terrifying parts of the escapade into something hilarious, which adults will no doubt appreciate.
Bursting with excitement and atmosphere, Crater Lake will keep adults and children alike on tenterhooks. Readers will love running with the characters in their race against time to save their school from the gruesome villains.
Though perhaps not one to be read before bed for younger readers (unless they love feeling scared!), the book has warm and comforting messages about friendship at its heart: stand up to bullies, protect the people you care about and accept your differences. Crater Lake shows that with self-belief and support you can face your fears and overcome the things that truly scare you.