Our final publishing masterclass, on the penultimate day of teaching in 2010, turned out to be a veritable Christmas treat: an hour and a half with the charming Tony Mulliken, Chairman of Midas Public Relations. Publishing’s answer to Max Clifford, Mulliken ranks in The Bookseller 100‘s top movers and shakers in the industry and handles book-related PR for anyone who’s anyone: Michael Parkinson, Mills & Boon and the Galaxy National Book Awards to name just three.
In an entertaining session, Mulliken kicked things off by illustrating the differences between direct marketing, advertising, public relations and brand recognition – all in the context of a flirtatious party-goer trying to get their message across to the opposite sex. I’ll let you think up your own scenarios to define each activity… In Mulliken’s view, publicity is where it’s at. If things go badly the publicity team probably get the blame; if things go well, a publicity department can make a bestseller, as Midas did with Peter James (who, we should say, was already a great writer).
Of course, Midas has a lot more time available to dedicate to its clients than the average publicity department within a large publishing house. And, with newspapers being sent 100 books a week for review and some high-footfall bookshops giving titles less than 24 hours to succeed or fail, this dedicated time is what can make all the difference. Time to get to know the author and the book, time to “Google everything”, time to consider newsworthy angles – or even commission market research to create your own news, time to craft a really good press release (which doesn’t just rehash jacket or advanced information blurbs), and time to share ideas and brainstorm with your colleagues. Combine that with time to “work, work, work” and you might just be on the road to getting the right messages out and driving potential customers to pick up and open your book. Even with time, it’s not an easy job. Mulliken likens it to “selling double-glazing. You are trying to get people to do something they mostly don’t want to do”. Despite that, he cites developing relationships with the media as one of the most satisfying parts of the job.
With the advent of digital, some might think the time of old-fashioned networking and literary lunches has been and gone. Yes, digital has made a difference: ” it has flipped PR/publicity plans on their heads”, but Mulliken’s still a member of The Ivy. And far from lamenting times past, Mulliken’s all systems go for the future:
“It is a great, great time to get into publishing. The opportunities are enormous and the future is fantastic.”
Midas are already working on campaigns for apps and they’ll soon have a whole division dedicated to handling self-published authors. That can only mean more opportunities for Mulliken and his team to help build more authors’ reputations. After all, he says, creating something from nothing and helping a good book to out in the end is “a lovely, lovely feeling”.