Behind the book: Working on the marketing campaign for The Secret Commonwealth

The people who bring some of the biggest books of the year to life talk about what it’s like to work behind the scenes on getting them published and into the hands of readers.

The Secret Commonwealth promotional material

What’s it like to bring one of the most magical worlds in fiction to life, and into the hands of readers?

In October the second volume of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth, was published, which has given fans and readers a chance to learn about Lyra Belacqua’s life as a young adult and student at Oxford.

We heard from Gemma Rostill and Michael Bedo, two of the team working on bringing the book to life, to hear about what it was like to work with such a widely-loved author, and on publishing a book whose characters mean so much to so many. 

What was your role, and what did it involve?

We worked on the marketing campaign – so everything from creative messaging and imagery to media spend and fan/bookseller engagement. Whether managing daily organic content on Philip Pullman’s official communities across Instagram and Facebook, paid social and digital boosts behind key PR moments and providing booksellers with the tools to promote the publication – we’re always ‘on’! The audiences for Philip Pullman are wide-ranging and rapidly evolving this year, so it’s been an exciting challenge to reach, engage and learn from them. We’re constantly analysing results as we go and shaping the campaign as it happens.

Book of Dust promo imagery
One of the marketing images used for the campaign

What was it like to work on one of the biggest books of 2019?

Full on! It’s incredibly exciting, not least because we’re huge fans of the books ourselves (Gemma changed her whole career path at university after reading His Dark Materials) but for the opportunities it offers as marketers. There’s a huge amount of emotional investment in these books across the board, from consumers to our retail customers, so we have to find the delicate balance between leveraging that and being sensitive to something that means a great deal to many people. The trick is, as ever, to have a laser focus on the audiences and ensure the campaign is multi-faceted to bring each one with you throughout the campaign.

How did your campaign differ from the launch of the first in the Book of Dust series back in 2017?

The 2017 campaign was very special, as it was the first time in many years that Philip had written a full-length novel with his beloved heroine, Lyra, at the centre. Our strategy was to create a year-long teaser campaign with a huge ‘lift-the-veil’ moment at publication, releasing very little content and keeping consumers on the edge of their seats and pre-ordering in their thousands by drip-feeding news month by month. This time, we took the opposite tack and established a series of content reveals, building on the huge fan engagement since 2017 and using a core creative message around ‘Lyra’s journey’ to mirror the actual journey she undertakes across Europe and beyond in the book, and as a person – from a tiny baby in La Belle Sauvage to a young adult of 20 in The Secret Commonwealth.

Foyles bookshop Charing Cross
The beautiful Secret Commonwealth display in Foyles on Charing Cross Road

What was your favourite moment of the campaign?

Seeing fan engagement with our campaign – from incredible creativity amongst bookseller in-store displays using our materials and their imaginations, to reactions during our Alexandra Palace launch event live stream and the hugely enthusiastic engagement with the launch and progression of our Instagram channel. I (Gemma) also had the chance to meet and interview Philip for our social channels, which was a huge privilege. To be honest, it was a complete out of body experience but one that translated into amazing video content – and I just about managed to stifle my inner fan girl.

Philip on stage at the Alexandra Palace event

What book/campaign are you next working on?

Gemma: I’m straight into planning The Secret Commonwealth paperback for next June!

Michael: I'm working across a variety of Young Adult (YA) campaigns, including Karen McManus’s new book, The Cousins, out next autumn, Malorie Blackman and Harrow Lake, our exciting new YA voice launch this summer.


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