BEA: Thursday, part II (thought leadership)

Of course, my computer died and I took notes during this panel by hand. So I’m re-typing them now, all 9 hand-written pages, from my illegible scrawl. And anybody familiar with my handwriting can tell you just what sort of fun that will be!

The panelists were: Kristen Melier, president of ABC; Sue Corbett, parent, author, and reviewer; Emily D’Amour Pardo, the children’s events manager at Books & Books; and Valerie Lewis of Hickelbee’s. (Remember again that the related paperwork can be printed out by ABA members at bookweb.)

From the first slide: “A thought leader is an individual who is widely recognized for innovative ideas that they share broadly within their community.” It’s basically a new economy way of thinking about marketing. There is a glut of information in this, the information age, and traditional marketing simply does not work as well as it used to. So what you need to do is look for opportunities in a strategic way to build your reputation and demonstrate knowledge–this program focused on applications for children’s books, but much of the theory and information could apply across the board. Examples of thought leadership marketing are book talks, partnering with schools, an in-store information center, and reviewing books in a local paper. Now, you might be doing many of these things already, but what you need to do is approach it not from a programming point of view, but a marketing one.

Kristen: “It’s not easy, and it’s not fast. But it is really transformative.” It’s about building trust and reputation, which is not something you can do through advertising, because reputation is what others say about you, not what you say about yourself. There are three keys to this: 1. make education a core mission; 2. give away knowledge; 3. create value for the consumer. (And here let me pause and thank whoever, I’m guessing Kristen, organized this panel, because it was incredibly organized, and yet fairly discussion-oriented–a really nice balance.)

The first panelist to speak was Valerie. Her advice and thoughts:

  • Go find the best speakers (librarians, etc) and bring them in. It doesn’t always have to be you, especially if you’re uncomfortable with public speaking. But make it YOUR space where things happen.
  • You cannot judge your events by how many books sold, under the thought leader model (despite the fact that publishers do).
  • She followed up on something Kristen said earlier about not making your knowledge-oriented events an advertising thing all about you–that doesn’t mean you can’t hand out bookmarks with your name, put a store sticker on a books, etc. Just don’t build the event around advertising yourself.
  • Consider a community partnership with local libraries and/or schools; give your customers the option to donate 10% of their purchase to the library or school of their choice. This is a great link to the community and will drive sales and traffic at your store.
  • Other partnerships to look at: youth theatres, speaker’s clubs, reading associations, humane societies
  • Give teens ARCs (you want to get rid of them anyway) in exchange for reviews of the ones they like (this will make them invested in the store AND get you some guidance on what teens actually enjoy reading)
  • Try a book-of-the-month blub–customers get a new book sent to them every month
  • Exhibit at conferences, but not necessarily to sell books, and show galleys, especially to teachers, as people love to know what’s new and coming soon
  • Provide training about children’s books to teachers. This can help you get big school orders. You might not be able to compete on a discount level, but if schools know that you will explain and train all the books they’re considering or do buy, that is added value that nobody else can compete with.
  • Start at the beginning and work backwards–figure out what your goal is, what the ideal situation it, and then figure out how you can attain it.
  • If you see a troublesome situation, don’t fear or ignore it. Instead, reverse it, and find a way to make it work for you.

Kristen summarized this by pointing out that developing community partnerships is at the heart of thought leadership, and that the place to start with that is to sit down with your staff and figure out which connections you already have, just within the circle of your employees. This is not about sales on-site, this is about sales down the road.


  • She pointed out, almost exactly echoing Ed Begley from earlier in the day, that people are overwhelmed. They want to do the right thing and the best thing, but don’t know how.
  • She builds presentations as she reads. This is so genius I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before. Whenever she reads a book she’s crazy about, she puts it in an on-going Power Point presentation, so that when she needs to give a book talk, most of the work is already done, and she doesn’t have to go back and figure out what she wants to talk about.
  • Donating ARCs to schools, elder care, day care, etc, is a great way to develop partnerships.
  • Linking back to my earlier post, a phrase I’ve been hearing in several places: “Graphic novels are a gateway drug.” This is especially true for 2nd and 3rd grade boys, as this is the age that many boys stop reading. She called reading lists for this age “beyond Captain Underpants” (since they’ve all already read that particular gateway drug).
  • Hook into state reading lists. Most, if not all, states, select the best books of the year every year, and this is a great list to provide customers.
  • Also hook into AR (Accelerated Reader) programs, which she estimated 70% of schools use in one form or another. If your area schools do, make sure you have those books in stock, and the list on hand.
  • “I am an evangelist. We are all evangelists. And that passion will come through when you talk about books you care about.

Kristen’s summary: this doesn’t have to be labor-intensive or expensive, because you can build as you go. Think of this like a garden that you are cultivating and allowing to grow. Also, take away that people are hungry for published lists that have the seal of approval that you can give them by being a bookseller. Again, consider having a part of your store devoted to information like lists, xeroxed articles, printed copies of staff picks, and so on. Also think about including this sort of thought-leadership material in newsletters (especially e-newsletters, when you can just put links in that people can follow).


  • “Dream big and then figure out how to make it work.”
  • The best thing to do is to find a partner, including arts organizations and other local businesses.
  • Every customer in the store is part of multiple networks; keep that in mind.
  • Tap into the kids–they are huge supporters and VERY vocal. She has teens volunteer to help get friends in the store. This is will be more authentic than you ever can be, because when they tell each other, it holds more weight.
  • Think about a music-related event. She does Books & Beats, where an author event is sandwiched with a few teen bands performing. She cards at the door, and only 18 and UNDER are allowed in the courtyard (adults are consigned to the bookstore).
  • “Become a hip alternative to the mall.”
  • In-store book fairs: have school bring artwork, etc, and a portion of all proceeds that night go to the school (much, much less work than taking the books to the school)

Kristen’s summary: This is built on one-on-one relationships, but not necessarily with the person you think. It doesn’t have to be the media specialist or principal–sometimes it’s the second grade teacher that will be your fiercest advocate and go to bat for you. That is the person to maintain a relationship with (certainly makes life more pleasant, as well).

I won’t type out the steps to get started, then expand your efforts, and then build on your successes–they’re all on the handout on bookweb and you should definitely check that out. It was interesting to listen to how to use something we, and I think almost all booksellers, already do to improve our marketing efforts. It’s just a change in the way I think about book fairs and lists and so on, but it seems like a fairly easy way to drastically improve what we offer customers in the children’s department and attract/keep new customers. Many thanks to the panelists for such a great and thought-inspiring panel!


1 comment so far

  1. […] than the ALA.¬† Indie booksellers should take this lesson to heart (here, I am thinking of the workshop on thought leadership marketing that I attended at the ABA’s Day of Education before BEA) and take more steps to make […]

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