On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), Random House Children's Books decided to throw a party for its all-time bestselling author. This ongoing celebration (aka a Seussentennial) is like none ever thrown by the publisher before.
Judith Haut, v-p, executive director of publicity for Random House Children's books, has been heading up the major publicity event for the anniversary, the Seussentennial Imagination Tour. The tour, which kicked off last month, consists of 100 days of events and celebrations honoring Dr. Seuss's memory. It includes live theatrical performances by the Irondale Ensemble Project, readings, costume character appearances and interactive workshops for children, and it will visit 40 cities across the country from January through April.
Working on a tour like this one is a new experience for Haut. "It's basically a traveling, interactive theater performance," she said. "Having been out on the road a bit, I find it wonderful to see the kids and parents watching the performances. They are so engaged and have such a wonderful time hearing the actors saying the words from the books they know, and are saying them right along with the actors."
According to Haut, the Seussentennial publicity program is so elaborate because of who it is they are celebrating. "We knew we needed to put together something that was fitting to this man," she said. "The celebration encompasses his life as a whole and not just him as a children's book illustrator. He revolutionized how children learned to read, and so we knew the celebration had to equal the passion people have for his books."
The marketing program for the Seussentennial is multi-faceted. RHCB has created a countdown calendar, which includes 100 ways to celebrate Dr. Seuss, along with a map of tour events. A national consumer contest where a family can win a trip to Universal Orlando Resort is in place, as is a postcard mail-in campaign that encourages fans to write their favorite "Thing One" and "Thing Two" about Dr. Seuss. Daisy Kline, v-p of marketing for Random House Children's Books, said that her marketing department is normally fairly channel-specific, but in the case of this promotion, it warranted an extensive collaboration. Their marketing program, together with "an aggressive sales initiative resulted in widespread retailer support," she said.
Kline emphasized the "breadth and scope" of the marketing program by pointing out that Random House placed an ad, along with a Seussentennial calendar insert, in Parents and Child magazines, which together have three million subscribers. "We really want to reach out to parents," said Kline. These ad placements represent the biggest one-time, single-property investment in consumer advertising for RHCB.
In conjunction with the National Education Association, Random House has sent out over 4,000 Read Across America retail event kits to booksellers, which is a record number for the company. In order to target teachers, a Seuss poster with a Read Across America activity guide on the back were put into 40,000 of the NEA's teacher resource kit mailings.
Putting a promotion like this together takes a lot of effort—and time. In fact, Kline said, the Seussentennial promotion has been two years in the making. "The whole Seussentennial program is really a Dr. Seuss Enterprises initiative, to which RHCB has made an enormous commitment," she explained. "We've worked very carefully in the past few years to make sure we target parents, teachers, everyone with our efforts."
A Life in Books
To coincide with the anniversary of Ted Geisel's birth, Random House will be publishing two new titles based on the life of Dr. Seuss. The Boy on Fairfield Street by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, is a picture book biography of the artist's childhood; and TheSeuss, The Whole Seuss and Nothing butthe Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel by Charles D. Cohen is a thorough history of Seuss' life, as seen through his work.
The latter Seuss biography had an unusual genesis. Kate Klimo, publisher of Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group, recounted how associate publisher Cathy Goldsmith, who worked with Geisel on most of his books, "was cruising eBay about two years ago and found some old magazine pieces attributed to Dr. Seuss. We had an idea to do an anthology of these unpublished works, when the man who was selling the Seuss items, Charles D. Cohen, recognized Goldsmith's name from a biography on Dr. Seuss and began an e-mail correspondence with her."
As the two began their correspondence, Cohen was putting together a museum show of items from his collection, to show in Geisel's home town. "He was curious about Dr. Seuss," said Klimo. "He was a very articulate guy, he has this incredible collection of Seussiana and so Cathy and I asked him to write a biography."
Cohen set out to write the biography as a "life as seen through his work," according to Klimo. "It started out as a bunch of captions stringing together pictures from his collection, but then it became obvious that it needed to be expanded into a much bigger book." The finished product is a 400-page look into the world of Dr. Seuss, with everything from early magazine articles that were published in Children's Activity magazine to political cartoons to his children's book work.
This project was an entirely new experience for Klimo, as she'd never worked on a nonfiction book of this size before. "Ignorance protected [Cathy and me]," she said. "If we had known how much work went into a book like this we never would have taken on the project, because we wouldn't have thought we could finish it in time for the anniversary." Klimo added that the book was a seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock project for everyone involved. "Even the copyeditors worked on the weekends to finish this book," she said.
After delving so deeply into the life of Seuss, Klimo said she came away with a new appreciation for Geisel, saying, "I fell in love with Ted the moviemaker, the political cartoonist, the advertising man."
With the yearlong celebration in place, it's clear that Random House is making an enormous statement about its author. As Klimo stated, "There is just no comparison—he's the biggest name on our list, living or dead. There's no one like him out there."
|A Full Year of Seuss In addition to Random House's plans, Geisel's birthday will be marked in a variety of ways. |