Doc Martyn’s Soul: The Malaise of Continuity

What is a marketing team?

Over time an organization develops tendencies, practices, departmental setups, etc. Whether these things are the best they can be is often overlooked because tradition sets in and things become stuck. In some cases best-practice is what becomes tradition. In other cases, tradition is simply “well, it’s always been this way.” I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the “it’s always been this way” sentiment is unavoidable. There is institutional memory that needs to exist; there is also institutional memory that cannot be erased even if we want to.

My attention has been drawn to the “malaise of continuity” as I seek to determine what might be the best way to split up marketing responsibilities in a modern book-publishing marketing department. Evolution of job descriptions tends to be the norm in changing a department’s setup. In other words, a new task evolves and we find a team member who can fit it into their existing workflow with little disruption to what they’re already doing. Alternatively, a person is found in the team who could drop something they do and replace it with the new task. Square pegs and round holes. Neither option is ideal. Evolution of a team means that eventually you end up with a lot of people doing things they are either not best suited to or doing things simply because no one else could. Such evolution is the malaise of continuity. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing with small changes when we have to so that we don’t disrupt everything all at once. I’m becoming rapidly convinced that’s not the best way to approach a changing marketing environment.

In broad strokes, a book-publishing marketing team has, for the past five to ten years worked within the following areas: electronic marketing, direct mail, advertising, exhibits, publicity, awards, and sales. These categories are out of date. Electronic marketing was a catch-all term developed as the malaise of continuity struggled to deal with emerging technologies such as the internet and email. Direct mail held on as a printed materials (catalogues, flyers, postcards, etc.) function. Advertising has slowly seen its role reduced/changed as budgets shrank. Exhibits have gradually taken a larger role particularly as the cost of attending conferences has risen. Publicity is a completely different beast from what it was even five years ago because of changes in traditional media and the advent of social media. And sales…well, we all know that a sales team is completely different from its predecessors of yore.

If these broad areas have shifted so much, how has the modern marketing team kept up? It hasn’t. At this point, marketing teams have unbalanced approaches often with weight distributed unevenly towards functions that used to hold much more importance than they currently do. Small shifts are unlikely to solve this imbalance in an effective manner. In essence it’s time to reassess what a marketing team should be doing and how best it should spend its resources and time.

The modern team needs to focus on key areas that have the potential to bring the biggest impact in return on the investment. Publicity, perhaps because of changes to all the other areas—including to its own field—must claim an even more central role within the marketing team. Social media has cemented its place in the lineup and, while it may change in nature, it isn’t going to disappear. Electronic marketing should encompass direct mail. Awards should be moved to the acquisitions department because that is where their value to the Press lies. Exhibits are no longer about sales but they still serve an important role in brand development and future acquisitions. Course adoption marketing continues to grow in importance to a university press marketing team. Advertising is solely for acquisitions and author relations.

Publicity should control social media because they are so closely aligned; public voices of the house, if you will. As a key element of marketing social media needs a home within another area of the team unless you have a budget for a stand-alone social media manager. Electronic marketing should encompass direct mail (largely email at this point anyway) and should take on the course adoption email campaigns that will form a large part of those efforts. This area of responsibility also encompasses the website and metadata feeds. Advertising for university presses is less about individual books in trade outlets and more about body-of-work ads in journals and high-brow media. This isn’t necessarily new but shrinking budgets and the premium placed by acquisitions on the value of author-development ads strikes me as an opportunity to refocus advertising within the marketing team. As such, combining advertising, awards (if they remain within marketing), and exhibits seems to make most sense. Each of these marketing functions is geared towards author retention and author recruiting rather than directly towards pure sales. The person(s) responsible for this grouping is going to work closely with acquisitions; in some ways this person is a bridge between the two departments.

I realize that no two university presses are alike in terms of departmental task division. We all have too many resources being pushed towards outdated approaches to catalogs, sales teams, untargeted advertising, and other traditional tasks of marketing that are quickly losing their effectiveness as book buyers turn to new methods of discovery. We continue to allocate staff to these tasks often because it is easier to leave roles untouched; we’re trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes primarily because we don’t want to rock the boat.

Taking the easy road here—leaving things as they are—will not dramatically affect the effectiveness of your marketing team in the immediate future, but it won’t be long before the team is so stuck in their round holes that there is no escape. The only recourse will be to start from scratch and that will get ugly quickly. Addressing these issues now by reassessing the realities of modern book marketing and putting the right people in the right roles will produce marketing teams that are streamlined, cost-effective, efficient, and built to stand the next few years of changes in book marketing.

-Martyn (@martynbeeny)