OLSON leads myriad marketing efforts to boost Random House

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"Flat" and "difficult" were terms many publishers used to describe the book industry in 2001, but at Random House, the much more upbeat "record-setting" also applied for the year. Random House, a division of Bertelsmann Book Group, saw an unprecedented 203 of its titles hit The New York Times best-seller lists last year, and 15 of those rose to the No. 1 position. More than 200 million of Random House's books were sold in the U.S. last year, which the company claims is also its annual average.

Random House releases about 3,500 new titles annually, each emerging from one of its eight separate U.S. publishing divisions, including one named Random House. Overseeing the sprawling organization is Peter Olson, 51, chairman-CEO. According to Mr. Olson, the privately held company spent more than $100 million in 2001 on marketing efforts, but only publishers within each division-rather than himself-determined how those dollars were used. Each division also can choose its own ad agency.

"Publishing imprints and houses are not consumer brands. Our emphasis is on attracting readers to the authors," he says. Marketing strategies for achieving that goal were as diverse in 2001 as the titles themselves. For example, among its 2001 best sellers, author John Grisham commanded 10-month marketing efforts that most resembled big branding campaigns. They came complete with national print, TV spots during NBC's "Today" in conjunction with the author's appearance on the program and contests in 10 markets that awarded copies of the books as well as trips to destinations noted in the plots.

Alternatively, key elements to the marketing of scientist Stephen Hawking's "The Universe in a Nutshell" included sending advance copies to booksellers and sponsoring public radio programs. To introduce a new romance author, Josie Litton, the publisher packaged her first two books together for the price of one. The author of "Any Way the Wind Blows" produced a song of the same title that was used to market the book on radio and also sent as a gift to booksellers. Lists of registered nurses and rabbis were employed for distributing "Tuesdays With Morrie" to target audiences that would continue to promote the book by word-of-mouth two years after Oprah Winfrey gave it her endorsement. "Her influence can never be underestimated," Mr. Olson says.

Though Mr. Olson, who has held his post since 1998 and before that worked in various capacities at Bertelsmann, has a background in business and law, the written word remains prominent in his life. "He probably reads more than anyone else in Random House," says Jackie Everly, VP-associate publisher and executive director of marketing for Random House's Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group. "He is a book person and supportive of the effort to get books into the hands of as many people as possible, for the obvious reasons and the not so obvious ones."

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