Interview with Paul Gijsbers, Program Marketing Manager, Brill
As a marketer for a scholarly publisher, what is your biggest challenge right now?
One of the biggest challenges in my experience is how to react quickly and effectively to constant change – 2022 has been a pretty hectic year thus far. At Brill, we have done our best to adapt to changes, including of course the outbreak of Covid-19 and its implications. But there are weeks when things are changing so rapidly that it is challenging to accurately work out marketing strategies.
In times like these, it’s very helpful that we can count on input from others to help us quickly deploy appropriate marketing ideas, whether the help and input comes from direct colleagues in marketing, publishing, editors and authors, or third parties like SciencePOD.
In terms of your marketing campaigns, what does ‘content marketing’ mean to you and what purpose does it serve?
In my opinion, content marketing should be all about showing the worth and relevance of research and scholarly work. Our editors and authors dedicate their academic life to asking critical questions on matters like globalization, the rise, and fall of societies, climate change, the impact of epidemics, the history of conflicts, international relations, inequality, water security, et cetera.
We can help you develop a highly engaging content marketing campaign for your business.
At its core, Brill has always been a Humanities publishing house. But the Humanities are under pressure. We want to show to a wider community of funders, policymakers, and the general public why it is crucial for society to continue to invest in Humanities research. And we think the best way to do so is by way of marketing scholarly content, by letting the research speak for itself, and in so doing, showing how it makes a difference and contributes to society.
Let’s dive deeper, what does ‘content’ mean to you? What role does ‘content’ play in your marketing strategy/efforts?
We publish a wide variety of content in a wide range of subject areas. At first glance and if you are not an academic, a lot of it seems specialized, in-depth, or even ‘niche’. But when you dig just a little further, or when the research is explained in an accessible language, it all becomes understandable and you often discover the most fascinating stories.
I love the ‘learning experience’ that working with content gives you. And I think good dissemination of marketing scholarly content should tie into that experience. It is like storytelling but on a different level. Essentially, I think it boils down more to ‘research communication’. There are lots of ways we try to facilitate this at Brill. We have a blog and a podcast series where we have biweekly discussions with our authors and editors about their work. The blog also features interviews (both video and text) and we discuss trends in (and views on) the academic publishing industry.
What kind of content works best for you and for what purpose? Where have you seen success?
Most success comes from larger campaigns around themes that are highly topical and build momentum over a longer period of time and over separate platforms. Our Covid-19 response has seen a lot of interest. Like other publishers, we made a large number of publications freely accessible and shared those on a dedicated landing page. This included works specifically on pandemics and illness, but also related matters like crisis management, recovery, homeschooling, and distance learning. We organized interviews with authors from a select number of those publications for our blog and podcast series and have seen a lot of interest there.
Other campaigns for marketing scholarly content that have worked well were around Brexit, International Women’s Day and our Open Access program. Campaigns celebrating anniversaries for journals with a top 10 or top 25 articles also do really well. What drives the success and traffic for those campaigns is still Facebook, Twitter and our e-newsletters.
For a scholarly publisher, is there a benefit to explaining research findings in your publications in an accessible language and shareable format?
Yes, definitely; I think it is still the most important aspect of content marketing. Research communication has several benefits. It allows authors to further promote their work among their colleagues and peers, which ideally drives more traffic. Explaining research in laymen’s terms also focuses on its value. This is helpful in our communication with customers like librarians as well, as they often appreciate a quick and easy overview of what is important and why. And as mentioned, by making the content and value of research available in accessible language and formats, we hope to show to a wider public why the Humanities matter and why it is important to continue to invest in them.
In terms of marketing campaigns or content – in your experience – what makes the most impact?
Finding the right ‘marketing mix’ isn’t easy and it also differs from subject to subject. Some subjects have a stronger book publishing program, others are more centred on online products. We are experimenting all the time to see what works best for which publications. For the time being, I think our overall marketing will remain a broad mix of traditional (print) materials on the one hand, and social media, landing pages, newsletters and newer content like podcasts and videos on the other. However, we are looking at ways of standardising workflows for producing traditional materials in order to shift more resources to e-marketing and content marketing in the future. Those resonate and speak to our communities of academics the most.
What does sales have to say about content, what kind of content works for them?
What works well for our sales team is campaigns around special sales offers. We have run such topic-specific campaigns for books on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, or commemorating 500 years of Reformation, for example. I am currently working on a sales campaign for books on Persian art. Our general sales campaigns (Summer sale / Autumn sale) always do well. Sometimes we come up with an idea to ‘repackage’ content and promote it in a different way. We have a number of online bibliographies in our Middle East & Islamic Studies department for instance, which we decided to group together and market under the concept ‘Who’s who in Islam?’ That was fun.
Where do you see marketing going in the future for scholarly publishing? And how do you see marketing innovating?
I think the future of marketing will be more and more in the supporting role for publishing and authors. Creating added value by helping your (potential) authors make the most of their publications. Content marketing is just one part of this. Another very important aspect is community building, for instance by organising (virtual) meetups or workshops on how to publish manuscripts and how authors can market their own work. I think marketing definitely has a place there.
In terms of producing materials, digital content is quickly becoming the norm. Younger researchers are expecting a stronger online presence and digital marketing strategy from their publishers. We quickly see more requests coming in for interviews, videos, and podcasts, book presentations. It is sometimes challenging to cater to that demand, but we very much like to do so whenever we can.