Launch Pad: Crashing a Marketing Campaign
Who is God? What is worth fighting or dying for? Can different religions coexist? These were just a few of the questions that French filmmakers Jules and Gédéon Naudet set out to answer in meeting with some of the world’s most revered spiritual leaders for their television documentary “In God’s Name,” which aired on CBS in December 2007.
The Naudets garnered worldwide recognition in 2002 for their documentary “9/11”—recipient of that year’s Emmy for Best Documentary and a result of their own experiences in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. In the several years that followed Sept. 11., the Naudets began to question their own faith, the meaning of life and many other spiritual issues, according to Ruth A. Chamblee, vice president, director of marketing, trade books, National Geographic Books (NGB). “So they embarked on this massive research project … to speak to the world’s spiritual leaders to find out what they thought about all of these things,” Chamblee says.
Birth of a Book
Around the time the documentary aired—drawing some 6 million viewers—Chamblee says the Naudets approached National Geographic with the prospect of publishing the book. The publisher felt the need to move quickly to capitalize on both the success of the documentary and Pope Benedict XVI’s widely anticipated visit to the United States in April. So the team set its sights on a March 25 release date for “In God’s Name: Wisdom From the World’s Great Spiritual Leaders,” which left Chamblee, who heads up the group’s marketing efforts, and her team scrambling.
“We just felt that the project had such huge potential that it was something we were willing to crash,” she says. “And when I say crash, I literally mean that. The book itself was pulled together in incredibly record time, as was the marketing campaign. We started in January, after the holidays, and the book came out in March.”
Chamblee adds that 12 staffers helped crash the book’s campaign.
First Things First: Sell, Sell, Sell
The first thing NGB did, says Chamblee, was to create sell sheets to be circulated by the publisher’s sales force. “We did what’s called an e-sell sheet that gave some selling points about the book [and] details on our preliminary marketing campaign … and [our salespeople] got that out immediately to their retail accounts.”
Chamblee says the sales force then put a “special push” on selling to religious bookstores, especially in light of the pope’s pending U.S. tour. They placed particular emphasis on the cities the pope was scheduled to visit.
Next Up: The Publicity Push
The campaign aimed to reach consumers with its message in three primary ways: through the media, through the library and academic markets, and direct-to-consumer.
Chamblee believes the media-outreach portion of the book’s campaign was among its most successful components. The public-relations team conducted a “massive print review mailing,” sending copies to book reviewers at the country’s top daily newspapers, popular general-interest magazines and targeted religious publications.
NGB earned some useful media hits, highlighted by a feature in the March issue of Vanity Fair and a number of favorable write-ups in spirituality magazines.
A 20-city radio tour paid off as well, with “In God’s Name” garnering a number of appearances featuring the Naudets not only on Christian and religious radio stations, but also a number of general-interest stations. “Radio tours … have now sort of replaced the traditional author tour in a lot of cases, because it’s the most efficient way to hit a broad swath of the country,” Chamblee says.
At the same time, NGB partnered with an advertising agency on a promotional radio campaign in which the agency approached popular stations in top markets, offering the stations free copies of the book to give away to listeners in exchange for an on-air mention.
“We’ve had quite a bit of success with this technique. It yields up to 5 million impressions,” says Chamblee. “The nice thing about it is the actual radio host is the person that reads your advertising. So you’re sort of connecting with the listener, because their own host is [talking about the book]. And if the host likes your book, they might go on and on talking about it.”
Getting visibility in the academic and library markets was the next key, she says. NGB reached out to professors of religious studies at universities across the country. As a result, the book appeared in an April e-newsletter for religious colleges. Chamblee adds that it also will be included in a religion brochure that goes out to the academic market, and the book will be featured at the American Academy of Religion Conference in November.
In the library market, the book is being included in a May e-newsletter that goes out to about 5,000 U.S. librarians. NGB is also in the process of sending out review copies of the book to the top 50 library system collection specialists. “These are the libraries that really have purchasing power,” says Chamblee.
Nontraditional Marketing Efforts
Chamblee acknowledges that the unprecedented turnaround time of “In God’s Name”—the quickest ever for any NGB book—forced her to get creative with the title’s marketing campaign. Because there wasn’t enough time to advertise in print magazines to effectively support a March release of the book, Chamblee turned her attention to the Internet.
For starters, her team has successfully pursued a number of arrangements with national religious organizations featured in the book, like the Southern Baptist Convention, which will permit e-mail blasts promoting “In God’s Name” to be sent to their members.
But what truly sets apart the campaign of “In God’s Name” from other NGB books’ marketing efforts was the launch of a Facebook page. “As we were doing our research, we were amazed by how many religious and spiritual organizations are reaching their followers and other interested people through Facebook,” Chamblee says. “So … we thought this would be a great way to reach out and leave no stone unturned.”
The Facebook page features several multimedia components, including a video clip of the film that Chamblee says was already circulating virally on YouTube. Her team also created a “book study guide” and included it on the page.
Another effort warranting a mention is Chamblee’s intent to tap a new feature being launched by Barnes & Noble—what she says they’re calling Book Trailers. “They’re sort of like a video commercial that they’re putting up on BN.com—and you can certainly make it available to Amazon or any of the other retailers, or just put it out virally—and it can be motion video or just stills from the book. It’s basically just a clip that advertises the book, and we’re creating one,” she says.
Chamblee is reluctant to specify how many books have sold in its first few weeks on the market, but she does say, “It has started off very well. We’re pleased with how it’s moving.”
She adds that NGB is especially excited about its prospects for the holiday season. “We definitely plan to re-promote this [at that time]. It’s going to be a terrific gift book. The package is gorgeous, and we can definitely see this on the front-of-store gift-book tables.”