Q&A with Gavin Hilzbrich

By   Jantien Abma 4 min read

We talked to book marketer and founder of MoonAge Media, Gavin Hilzbrich about his long career in media, the advantages of being his own boss and the importance of taking one’s time to get to know books before embarking on a campaign.

Photograph of Gavin Hilzbrich, Director of MoonAge Media Ltd.1. Your career has spanned 20 years in the media and marketing sectors. Now a large portion of your work focuses on book publishing. How did you come to be involved with books?

From as far back as I can remember, music and books have been a huge part of my life. Having been fortunate enough to spend over 10 years working in various areas of the music industry, an opportunity presented itself to me in 2007 in the shape of a digital (or ‘new media’ as it was referred to back then) marketing role with Transworld Publishers and Random House Children’s Books (now both part of Penguin Random House). At the time, the publishing industry was a few steps behind the recording industry as far as digital was concerned. Ebooks were not yet a recognised format, social media was in its infancy and using online channels to communicate directly with consumers was often considered a nice thing to do, rather than being an integral part of a campaign. The opportunity to play a part in that transition was really exciting and one that I seized with both hands. 

2. What in your opinion, is the key to a successful book marketing campaign? What, in your experience, can easily go wrong?

For me, achieving a successful book marketing campaign begins with getting to grips with the book that’s being promoted and really understanding what it’s about. Once that’s been established, the next step is to identify who its readers are likely to be, where they can be reached and how best to communicate with them. With so many options now available for consumers to fill their spare time and so much competition across all forms of media, taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to marketing simply isn’t good enough. It’s the content and themes found within a book’s pages that readers really engage with and I believe those elements should be put to good use in the way its marketed. Timings are also often a crucial factor in achieving a successful campaign and having sufficient time to plan, implement, measure and adjust campaigns (where appropriate) can make a huge difference. Rushing something together at the last minute without the necessary thought and attention can easily result in far from pleasing results. 

3. What has been your most rewarding project to date?

I’ve been fortunate to work on many high profile campaigns over the years – helping to push books by the likes of Kate Atkinson, Jo Nesbo, Bill Bryson, Jacqueline Wilson, Joe Abercrombie and Bradley Wiggins into the bestseller lists and working with a wide range of recording artists including Robert Plant, Morrissey, The Charlatans, Fleetwood Mac and Iron Maiden, but my most rewarding to date has to be for Terry Hayes’ novel, I Am Pilgrim. Championing a debut thriller from a year before its birth then building awareness through a range of traditional marketing, thoughtful PR, innovative digital promotions and various other elements across its hardback and paperback publications took time, focus and hard work, but achieving a huge no. 1 bestseller in both formats made it all worthwhile. As with any such project, the role I played was just one element of a much bigger picture. Outstanding work from all those involved in the editing, jacket design, production, sales and publicity, as well as the quality of the writing itself, were all key contributing factors to the book’s success, and it’s that collaborative process which I find most rewarding.

4. How has your professional experience changed, for better or worse, since you started your own company?

Going to fewer daily meetings and having more time to focus on the work that needs doing has definitely been a positive factor, since starting my own company. Whilst I understand the importance of regular meetings to ensure everyone is up to speed and all goes according to plan, I feel we have all become programmed to believe an hour-long meeting is the answer to so many questions when in fact a more positive outcome could be reached in half the time or in another way entirely. Working for a variety of different clients has also been hugely beneficial as it has allowed me to witness different ways of working and to see that there isn’t always a right and wrong way. If I had to choose one downside it would be the decrease in the ’shared’ experience I now have as a result of working on projects from a distance. The collaborative process still exists, but it’s not as easy to feel the same sense of shared success as you do when working closely with a team on a daily basis. 

5. What are the key qualities necessary to being an effective marketer? Any advice for others?

To answer this question, I would refer back to my earlier answer on what is the key to a successful book marketing campaign. Taking the time to really understand the campaign you’re working on and treating each as an individual project is, for me, the first step towards being a successful marketer. I think it’s also important to be flexible, cautious and always prepared to learn more. Marketing has evolved beyond recognition in the relatively short time I’ve worked in the area and there will always be a new way to reach consumers, but not all of them will be the next YouTube or Instagram.