Name: Benjamin Usher
Age: 27 years old
Degree and University: Oxford University (The Queen’s College), English and Modern Languages (French).
Can you give your work title and what it is you actually do?
I am the publicity manager for Profile Books, an award-winning independent publishing house in London (www.profilebooks.com). My job is to make sure that our books, our authors, and the company get lots of media attention, so that people go out and buy the books! I also co-run the internship scheme at Profile, which is very popular. It is an eight week, paid internship, and we try and make sure our interns get a good understanding of what each department in the company actually does. On a day-to-day basis I plan and runpublicity campaigns. This includes writing marketing plans, sending out early proof copies, organising events (debates, parties, conferences, etc), writing press releases, deciding which journalists and media outlets to send books to, and of course chasing and liaising with the media and authors to make sure we get a lot of coverage.
What made you choose this career path?
I’m aware that this is a massive cliché, but I have always loved reading! When I finished my degree, I decided that I would like to work in Publishing or in Advertising. I applied to jobs and graduate schemes in both industries, and after six months of looking I got some unpaid work experience at I.B.Tauris, an academic publishing house.
What, if any, difficulties did you have to overcome to get this job?
The main difficulty is that publishing is a very competitive industry, there are always vastly more applicants than positions, so I had to make myself as attractive a candidate as possible by demonstrating a strong track record in publicity, and a positive attitude (all important for publicists, since the vast majority of journalists you speak to don’t want to speak to you!) To become a publicity officer at Profile Books I went through two interviews, and the publicity director asked the shortlisted candidates to plan a hypothetical publicity campaign for one of Profile’s books. In my case it was Tough Cookies, a book about the pressure cooker world of top chefs.
What do you like most about your job?
The best thing about the job is seeing a big review or feature about a book you are publicising in a national paper, hearing one of your authors on the radio, seeing them on the TV, basically the results of all your hard work. It is also very gratifying to see the sales of a book take off due to a good publicity campaign.
Are there any downsides to what you do?
Well, the downside is that journalists tend to say no a lot! Dealing with rejection is part of the job. There are over two hundred thousand books published in the UK every year, so space is very limited, and every publisher is fighting to get their books in the media so that people can hear about them and buy them.
What do you think are the most important skills/strengths you need to make a success of what you do?
• Persistence – never giving up is an important part of the job. If ten people have just told you they are not going to review your book, or interview your author, you’ve still got to pick up the phone to call the next ten.
• Communication – being persuasive is also vital, since you have to convince the person you are talking to that you have a good story for them, even if they are pressed for time.
• Know the media – watch TV, read the papers, surf the web, listen to the radio, meet up with journalists. You have to know who is interested in what, so that you can then go to them with the right story. There’s no point contacting News at Ten with an amazing book on toadstools…
• Time management – you will be juggling a large number of campaigns at the same time, so you need to work out which task is the most important. It is easy to get bogged down working on the books that have just been published, but you also need to make sure you are planning for the ones three or six months down the line.
What would be your best piece of advice for graduates wishing to come into this sector?
If you can show the person who is interviewing you that you know what kinds of books they publish, that you know the media well, and that you think you can convince journalists to cover their books, then they should be impressed. Even better is being able to demonstrate all of this with experience, although I know this is hard to come by.
Do you feel that graduates who are interested in publishing concentrate too much on editorial careers?
Probably,although I can understand why, I was the same! Graduates aren’t always aware of who does what in Publishing, so although everyone knows what an editor is, they might not think about the jobs in Production, Sales, Publicity, Marketing and Design. If you think you are perfect for Editorial work, then go for it, but do have a think as to whether you’d be better in another role.