Building on brands

Last night’s masterclass speaker, Patrick Keogh, claimed to be unbelievably daunted by the prospect of talking to large groups. Yet he camly sat, perched at the front of a room holding over 50 students, and eloquently spoke about the state of publishing today, his habit of working within ‘cults’ and  the business of extending your brand. All without the aid of notes, PowerPoint or any other props.

Keogh, who set up the Faber Academy in 2008, has recently moved to the Guardian, developing his very own masterclasses in a range of areas. He describes the transition with characteristic dry wit:

“I was always a member of a cult before. I feel like I’ve joined an even bigger one now.”

The Faber Academy extends Faber's brand from books to writers and writing

Whether you subscribe to the Faber or Guardian cults, there’s no doubt both media organisations have strong brands. Faber is the independent literary publishing house which once boasted TS Eliot as  an editor; the Guardian has been described as the person at a party who huddles “in the corner wearing a Greenpeace T shirt, dourly complaining about University politics”. And with strong brands – especially when your core business model is under pressure – come new business opportunities.

Keogh’s recipe for building on the cultish brands he feels at home with is short but smart. Just ask yourself three questions:

  • What are your core values?
  • What are you known for?
  • How can you move that into an adjacent space?

The emphasis on adjacent is Keogh’s own. He points to BMW launching a high performance driving school and Sotheby’s entering the Fine Art education space as examples, but draws the line at Faber becoming a fashion brand. Mont Blanc on the other hand…

Guardian Masterclasses build on the Guardian's reputation for integrity and independence

His approach seems to have worked. Though he won’t say how successful his efforts have been, Faber is already offering courses in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Toronto and Sydney. And tickets for the newly launched Guardian Masterclasses are selling quickly. However, it’s not all about making money: Keogh views these enterprises as opportunities to

“Form meaningful relationships with customers who share your core values – in a non-digital way.”

In a back-lash against the growing  ‘press one to speak to an operator’ culture, Keogh is personally keen to sell face-to-face experiences supported by great customer service. It’s no surprise then to find his direct email offered to potential course participants on the Guardian website. Admirable, though given that he’s currently running the operation as a one-man show some might say foolish.

So what might a man who’s all about the brand say about himself? When giving advice about seeking jobs in publishing and interview technique, ‘brand Keogh’ became clear. Once asked “what do your colleagues think of you”, Keogh replied:

“Why don’t you f***ing ask them?”

Not the most charming response, but one that got him the job. He wouldn’t advocate everyone to follow suit, though. Instead, perhaps the most powerful thing he said all night was that you should be yourself.

“If you walk out the door having been yourself you will feel good even if you don’t get the job.”

Independence and integrity might be the two core values which link Faber and the Guardian, but they’re clearly also important to Keogh himself.


5 responses to “Building on brands

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