Hannah Davies is an account director at agency Four Culture. She manages campaigns for clients across the publishing, education and culture sectors, with literary prizes as one of her specialisms. She began her career in journalism, before moving into PR, events and marketing. This year Hannah was chosen as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars. We asked her a few questions about her work and how the rise of social media has affected it.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your PR work at Four Culture.
I’ve worked in books for the vast majority of my career but in lots of different roles: rights at Random House; journalism for The Bookseller; literary prize management at BookTrust; and now PR for Four Culture. I like to think that this wide range of book trade experience enables me to provide clients with a holistic approach to promoting their product, be it a book, festival, event or literary prize (as opposed to being master of none!).
As an account director at the agency, I’m tasked with bringing in new business, managing client relationships and the strategic direction of campaigns, and overseeing multiple project teams. The agency works across all cultural sectors, which I love because there’s so much to learn from the other creative industries, but because of my background and expertise I often work on literature and education campaigns, or on projects which take books as their starting point. My current clients include the Man Booker Prize, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Everyman’s Library & the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, Cliveden Literary Festival and Pop Up Projects.
What do you regard as the most gratifying and the most challenging aspects of the work you do?
The buzz of opening the newspaper and seeing a sizeable, positive feature you’ve placed for a client doesn’t ever get old. I get the same feeling when I see a junior team member’s face light up when they get a positive response from a journalist after a hard day’s pitching. Being in the business of books, it’s also pretty special when you can see that a campaign you’ve planned and delivered has resulted in more people reading and talking about books.
PR is definitely challenging though – perhaps more so than any other job I’ve had. A journalist recently told me a stat about PRs outnumbering journalists four to one, which perhaps explains some of the difficulty. There is a lot of competition for coverage – book reviews in particular. As a PR, many of your successes are in journalists’ hands so good relationships, well-conceived and written pitches, and creative thinking are all essential, as is ensuring that a client knows what outcome they can realistically expect from the start.
How has blanket social media engagement and digital marketing changed how you work?
It’s now difficult to completely switch off! I was on my honeymoon last month during the Man Booker longlist and IKEA partnership announcement and, to my husband’s chagrin, couldn’t help checking #ManBooker2018 to see the reaction. Social media has added so much to our PR campaigns though. You get immediate, direct feedback (not always positive, but always useful); you can discover and target readers and influencers; and it’s a great way to connect and share ideas with peers in the industry.
For our recent book campaign for On Courage by The Sebastopol Project, which had lots of high profile contributors such as Bear Grylls, we could reach large numbers of our target audience (Bear has over a million followers) by encouraging them to post about the book. Part of the Four Communications group is a business called Four Engage – the team is doing some really innovative work around audience insights on social media and I’d love to make use of their techniques/software for a forthcoming book campaign.
What are the differences between working with publishers on PR campaigns as opposed to contracting directly with individual writers?
Good question. While publishers and authors are trying to achieve the same outcome (i.e. sell more books), the relationship management can be different. You won’t find someone more knowledgeable or passionate about their own book than an author. This can be harnessed to great effect for the campaign – a brilliant editor called Eleo Carson recently taught me a few tricks about teasing feature ideas from authors, and many writers will have useful contacts with other authors, their local bookshop and often some journalists, all of which make a good starting point for a campaign. However, the personal investment also means that more regular client contact is needed – authors, particularly débuts, aren’t as familiar with the ins and outs of a book campaign and it’s helpful to provide reassurance that everything is on track.
Tell us about a campaign you’ve recently worked on that you were particularly excited about?
The 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize has been a completely mad, but really rewarding, campaign. It’s been a real team effort led by Dotti Irving, who is a walking Man Booker encyclopaedia and full of top PR tips. From events at literary festivals around the world, a #ManBooker50 Instagram competition and the Golden Man Booker Prize, to a special TLS supplement, a party at Buckingham Palace and a weekend of literary treats at Southbank Centre, which brought together 60 speakers including 17 former winners, it felt like a campaign that really got people talking about and reading books.