Lisa Charters – The plot thickener

Book publishing is not the first industry you'd think of as forward-thinking in terms of technology; in fact, most of its marketing is positively old-school. That's why the achievements of Lisa Charters are all the more impressive.

Book publishing is not the first industry you’d think of as forward-thinking in terms of technology; in fact, most of its marketing is positively old-school. That’s why the achievements of Lisa Charters are all the more impressive.

Charters – recently promoted to SVP director digital from VP director online sales and marketing for Toronto-based Random House of Canada – jumped into the online space early, and has never looked back. In 1995, when she was working for the Canadian Book Publishers Association, amazon.com was launched, and Charters knew what she wanted to do.

‘That was the beginning of the real Internet for consumers, and it was all about books,’ she says. ‘I decided to help publishers be part of the online world. I could see the opportunities online marketing was going to offer. We have so many products, and the ability to search and read about them online was so exciting.’

Charters quickly grasped the fact that although reading is a solitary exercise, book lovers are community-oriented, and their reading groups translate beautifully into online networks.

‘The number-one way people decide what to read is word-of-mouth recommendation,’ she says. ‘The early amazon.com had book reviews from consumers, and I could see how powerful and helpful they could be. And that was the thinking behind almost everything we do online.’

In 1999, Charters began developing innovative, low-cost ways for Random House to connect with readers and get feedback from them. Her team has driven the creation of randomhouse.ca, which receives over 100,000 visitors a month, bookclubs.ca, mysterybooks.ca and booklounge.ca, a club for avid readers that has more than 10,000 members and a YouTube channel featuring author interviews.

Charters and her team produce 15 newsletters for a combined subscription base of 30,000, and work with sites like the Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Indigo and sympatico.msn.ca. And they’ve used social media, blogs and even OOH screens in Toronto subway stations to promote books.

‘They don’t have huge budgets, so Lisa has had to be resourceful,’ says Adam Froman, president and CEO of Delvinia Interactive, Random House’s digital agency. ‘She was an early user of Google adwords, and when Facebook came along she understood its way of behavioural targeting and engaging audiences online. She’s always sought knowledge from other sources and applied it to the book industry. And she’s passionate about new technology. She’s always been an early adopter in an industry where you wouldn’t think there’d be early adopters.’

Charters points to Facebook flyers as an effective tool for promoting events. ‘One of the key ingredients in our marketing campaigns is author events,’ she says, ‘and we’ve used a lot of online vehicles to get people out to them. Before the Internet, that would have cost a lot. But with Facebook we can run an ad the day before targeted to, say, women in Winnipeg with books in their profile, and translate that into ticket sales instantly. It’s one of the clear ways we can see the return on investment, and I love it.’

And the community building continues. ‘The future is about very specific social networks, like knitters or people with deaf children,’ says Charters. ‘One of our focuses is to build and work with those communities. We’re starting to use Ning software, which lets you set up your own mini social networks. We’re doing one for a book about baby boomers taking care of their aging parents, and hoping it will be a resource for information.’

Charters also tapped Delvinia to create an online panel, which provides Random House with valuable consumer research.

‘Lisa wanted a feedback mechanism,’ says Froman. ‘So when people join the book lounge, we can opt them in to this online panel. She’s very disciplined in asking questions and disseminating the knowledge. Historically, Random House would never have direct contact with the reader. Now they’ve got an e-commerce site, but also a direct relationship with consumers. So she’s been a real innovator; she’s revolutionizing how a publisher can gain insight about its audience.’

Marketing team size: 8

Years at Random House: 10

First job in marketing: Oxford University Press

Professional highlight of the past year: Getting our e-books program started

Marketing style: Basics balanced with experimentation

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