Ask Alex: Publicist vs. Marketer

This month’s Ask Alex comes from Anna, who asked:

I know you’ve written about both marketing and publicity but can you make this difference clearer for me? My understanding is that publicity has more to do with interaction with the press while marketing is more about advertising and social media. What would a marketing professional do that a publicist wouldn’t and vice versa.

This is a great question, and one that I know a lot of authors and readers wonder about. Like with most things in publishing, some of this answer does depend on which publishing house you’re talking about. Speaking generally, though, you’re right—a publicist’s primary job is to pitch books to the media and serve as a point person (along with the editor) to the authors in house. You might be interested in the interview I did with my friend Lauren a few months ago.

Like Lauren mentions, publicists do such a variety of different things that it’s hard to keep track of—they’re working with authors on multiple lists (backlist authors, authors whose books are just release, authors who have books coming out a year from now), pitching magazines/tv shows/newspapers/websites for features/mentions/reveals, they’re planning BEA, hosting and planning bookseller dinners, planning and attending author tours, booking author travel, serve as support at conferences, and, depending on the house, posting to the company’s social media accounts. They’re the ones who work most closely with book bloggers.

Maybe an easy way to think about this is to say publicists are author-facing, whereas marketers are more consumer-facing (Obviously publicists are reaching consumers, too, when they get media for one of their books!). Meaning, that while publicists work directly with the authors, the folks in marketing have limited contact with them and put their time into creating materials that will help consumers connect with the books. There are usually three different departments within marketing: trade/consumer, school and library,1 and digital/online marketing. The names refer to the audience they’re creating materials for. All three groups create advertising, and, depending on who they’re trying to reach (teens, educators/librarians/adults who like x/y/z/what-have-you), create posters, trailers, websites, t-shirts, buttons, bags, etc. to promote a book or series.

There is overlap between marketing and publicity; both departments brainstorm marketing plans and coordinate big launches and campaigns together, too. Like I mentioned before, the distribution of duties (especially in regard to who controls social media, publicity or digital marketing) depends largely on the company.

Need more clarification? Sound off in the comments below, or drop me a line if you have any other unrelated questions. Happy holidays!

  1. If you are thinking to yourself: Wow, both of these sound interesting and great… I wish I could do both! then school and library marketing may be for you!  Because they handle the big educator and librarian conferences, scheduling author travel and participation (not to mention, if an author wins an award, booking their travel to go pick it up), they have more direct interaction with authors. In terms of awards, school and library submits to any awards sponsored by librarian or educator organizations (the big ALSC awards, for example, like Caldecott and Newbery), and publicity submits to any awards that don’t fall under that category (the National Book Award, the Edgars, etc.) School and library marketing also does quite a bit of entertaining in terms of hosting educator dinners and preview events. Because of the author care training involved in working with both departments, school and library and publicity will often serve as support/back-up at each other’s events.

7 Responses to Ask Alex: Publicist vs. Marketer

  1. Erin Bowman Dec 16 2013 at 9:31 am #

    Alex, thank you for highlighting the distinction between author-facing vs consumer-facing. This post was super insightful.

  2. Anna J. Boll Dec 16 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. You answered my question and then some. Happy Holidays!

  3. JoSVolpe Dec 16 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    Great post, Alex! It’s amazing how many different facets there are to marketing and publicity!
    Really informative breakdown.

  4. Susan Dennard Dec 17 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Wow, awesome post. I have to admit that I’ve totally been wondering about the differences, so thank you for clearing it all up!!

  5. Alexa S. Dec 20 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    I love that you were able to clarify the difference between publicity and marketing. I think it’s pretty clear in your post, which is awesome! Either job would be fantastic though because you’d be involved into getting books into the hands of other people!

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