MacRae Ross was a client many years ago and a great guy. He taught me a lot. Everybody that knew him loved him. Mac was smart, bubbling with energy, a devout rugby player, great conversationalist and party animal.
I heard that he married a lady named Marji and became a father. But he was in the Washington, D.C., area while my wife, Peggy, and I were living in Connecticut, so we lost touch. Last year, I was deeply saddened to hear Mac had died of pancreatic cancer in 2006. He was so very young.
In the July 16, 1998, issue of Fast Company, Lisa Chatterton wrote:
MacRae Ross, for example, a marketing consultant at Ross & Co. in McLean, Virginia, says that over the past nine years, he’s told more than 5,000 companies to “Fish where the fish are.” “It communicates a simple but powerful idea,” he explains. “To sell what you’re selling, you have to be talking to the right crowd.”
This theme was picked up and pounded home last week at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo in Manhattan by the President and Publisher of Regnery Publishing, Marji Ross, who is every bit as articulate and savvy as her late husband.
How savvy is Marji Ross? Half the books she publishes reach The New York Times Best-Seller List. No other publisher comes close to that percentage.
If you are going to launch a book, an author, a spokesperson, a product or a service, commit to memory the Marji Ross formula of Blitzkrieg PR.
Then go and do thou likewise.
About Regnery Publishing
The company founded in 1947 by Henry Regnery has become the beating heart of conservative book publishing in the U.S.with a take-no-prisoners attitude and string of New York Times best sellers to die for.
Among its blue-ribbon roster of authors past and present: William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater, Whittaker Chambers, Newt Gingrich, Laura Ingraham, Mark Fuhrman, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North.
Regnery has always thrived on controversy and hype that has grabbed headlines and sometimes changed history. A prime example: “Unfit for Command”—by the notorious Swift Boaters—very likely cost John Kerry the presidency in 2004.
What are the secrets of launching a best seller? And how can you make these PR and publicity techniques work for you when launching a non-book product or service?
The Wholesale and Retail Phases
Plan your campaign as meticulously as General Dwight Eisenhower and the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) commanders planned D-Day, the invasion of France, June 6, 1944.
In the case of launching a book, everything leading up to the “Pub-Date” is the wholesale phase of the campaign. Printed books must be at the sales venues—online and bricks-and-mortar stores—ready to ship and be physically pawed over and bought by customers.
During this wholesale phase, advance copies of the new title must be put in the hands of the right reviewers and influencers, giving them time to read and reflect on it. Author appearances must be booked, e-mail addresses assembled and readied for the big e-blasts, and press releases written and printed (if to be delivered by snail-mail).
As with D-Day, the Pub-Date is the commencement of the retail phase when the public is bombarded from every possible direction with news and sales pitches for the product—the Blitzkrieg.
Remember the late Ed Mayer’s formula for direct mail success: 40% lists, 40% offer and 20% everything else. This holds for PR and publicity as well as direct marketing. A sample sent to the wrong influencer is a dead loss.
1. Pick the right book in the first place
Regnery publishes relatively few titles, so it can concentrate on marketing each product with great precision and care. Before a book is accepted for publication, it must get over many hurdles and satisfy a lot of different criteria:
—Unique, fun, shocking, appalling
—Controversial: creates buzz, anger, discussion, debate
—If it is not entertaining, you will have a tough sell
2. The author interview
Before a book is accepted, the author is invited to a meeting to sell the editorial and marketing people on the project. The author must be:
—On a mission
—Revealing something new
—Impressive to the people sitting around the table
The first question: “Who will this book be for? Who will buy it?”
It is the kiss of death when an author replies, “This book is for everybody.”
“No book is for everyone,” Marji Ross will snap. In the words of Mac Ross, “Fish where the fish are.” It is imperative to know precisely whom the book is for, because that affects every facet of the product: cover, chapter headings, the type and the voice, as well as where and how to publicize it.
3. Make sure it’s a book and not a magazine article
Marji Ross described a book about a soldier who lost a leg in Iraq. He was given a prosthetic limb and, after much rehab, was judged fit to return to the battlefield and lead his old unit. This was inspiring stuff and got a huge spread in People magazine. Since People gave readers the whole story, they had no need to spend $25 for the book and didn’t.
4. Involve everyone at the outset
In most publishing houses, the editor works with the author. When the book is ready for production, it is then passed on to the designers. Thereafter it goes to the marketing, publicity and sales departments to work their alchemy. At Regnery, the entire team is involved from the moment a title is accepted for publication.
5. Go dark
The project and the author are kept under wraps for a month during the wholesale phase before launch:
—No advance publicity.
—Get advance copies into the hands of influencers, but embargo all discussion until the publication date.
Publicizing a book (or getting buyers excited about a product or service) when it is not yet on sale and is unavailable is a waste.
6. The USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
Regnery does not publish books. Its authors make news. A Regnery press release never-oh-never has a headline that says, “So-and-so wrote a book.” Instead it tells people that this is news and here is how you get it. The book is incidental to the author and news being made.
7. Get samples to influencers
Get advance copies into the hands of those who will give you free media coverage. This is the backdoor to a successful launch. (The front door is paid advertising and—in the book world—frequently ineffective.)
Of course review copies must go out to key book reviewers. But book review pages are the least-read sections of newspapers and magazines.
Regnery’s news-driven books by celebrity conservative authors will get coverage on cable news television and radio talk shows nationwide. This is the marketplace. Here is where people start talking.
For example, a Regnery author was featured on the “Today Show” with five times to 10 times the viewership of cable. Sales as a result of the appearance were negligible. Matt Lauer & Co. simply do not grill guests and rivet audiences with the same fierce animation as cable TV news anchors and conservative talk-radio hosts.
Get advance copies into the hands of relevant bloggers, but be sure to specify that discussion is embargoed until the pub date. Bloggers are influencers and can be an enormous help in viral marketing, but they may be out of the mainstream media and not aware of book publishing protocol.
8. Collect e-mail addresses
Regnery has the e-mail addresses of 800,000 conservative readers. Does the author have such a list? If not, it should be assembled and readied for an e-mail blast the day after publication.
9. The murder board: getting the author battle-ready
The author is the main salesperson. With the exception of talk-show hosts such as Laura Ingraham and Pat Buchanan—or a practiced politician such as Newt Gingrich—authors (as well as CEOs, inventors, entrepreneurs and company founders) must be coached before they make media appearances.
Bring them into the office and expose them to a murder board—a panel of questioners who give the author a hard time with tough, nasty questions. A grilling by the murder board will keep the author from stumbling and flubbing answers when live on the air.
Impress on the author to never neglect the core audience. It is tempting to try and convert the uninitiated, but the core audience is where the sales are. It’s easy to walk away from your base, said Marji Ross, and not sell to them. But an author must talk to the base.
10. Mount a one-week Blitzkrieg attack
The object is to get as much action, publicity, buzz and sales the first week the title is available as possible. This is the convergence of action and pressure that will get it on the best seller list that very first week:
—Regnery authors do 10 to 15 talk show interviews every day of that first week.
—These are not five minutes on a Saturday morning satellite show. Shoot for 15 to 20 minutes or more on every relevant radio show in the country.
—Book the author on cable news shows: Fox, CNN and MSNBC, as well as local TV news shows.
—If the Pub-Date is Monday, unleash the 800,000 e-mail blast on Tuesday with crackling prose, breaking news and peppered throughout with hyperlinks to Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. Not hyperlinks to these booksellers’ homepages, but directly to the title itself.
—Continuously read results.
—Pay attention to the blogosphere. This is a major information and discussion community that can create buzz and viral marketing.
11. Finally, consider using www.tinyurl.com
The direct hyperlink to Newt Gingrich’s “Real Change” at Amazon.com is this unwieldy string of 119 characters:
Tinyurl.com will compress that to http://tinyurl.com/2jvy8q/.
Here is a manageable sequence of just 25 characters, enabling you to use the hyperlink in printed press releases as well as online.
55-WORD BOOK REVIEW
Note: In the May 8, 2007, edition of this e-zine, “The Book Business: An Industry of Whiners,” I proposed an online (for profit) book service, QuickieBookReviews.com, that would feature short reviews (55 words) and one to four stars—just like movie reviews.
You are invited to submit 55-word reviews of any really good book that readers would enjoy.
***THE PANIC OF 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm. By Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr. Last week’s run on Wall Street giant Bear Stearns was stanched by the Fed and J.P. Morgan—repeating a near catastrophe from 1907. With no Fed, only one man could save the country, J.P. Morgan himself, who locked up 100 top bankers in his private library overnight with orders to fix the system. High drama. Wiley, 1907, 258 pp, ISBN-978-0470152638, $29.95 US. —DH, 03-15-08. http://tinyurl.com/2brfyn.