Publishing experts spoke about standing out in a crowded marketplace at the third annual Global Kids Connect conference, held in New York City on December 4. The panelists were Jennifer Emmett, senior v-p for content at National Geographic Kids and Family; Meera Dolasia, CEO, editor and publisher of DOGO Media; Kate Keating, director of digital marketing at Penguin Random House Children’s; and Jennifer Perry, v-p, Worldwide Publishing at Sesame Workshop. Daniel Nayeri, who is launching a new imprint at Macmillan Children’s Book Group, moderated the discussion.
Nayeri kicked off the conversation by asking the panelists to reflect on recent media messaging that had made an impact on them personally. Perry spoke about the tsunami of email messages she received on Giving Tuesday and the reasons why a few of the messages stood out to her above and beyond the others. One request for donations came from the New York Public Library, which offered a unique gift in exchange for a donation: individuals who gave could have a personalized bookplate placed inside a book in circulation at the library. The outreach effort “engaged me in a way that was empowering and gave me a way to pay it forward,” she said.
Dolasia spoke about Sesame Street’s introduction of a character with autism on the show earlier this year. She sees the introduction of Julia furthering an important discussion about autism. Emmett referenced what she called a memorable “moment of shared hilarity”—a viral clip of kids crashing their father’s BBC interview. In fact, it resonated so strongly with her and colleagues, that several individuals reenacted the video during a National Geographic talent show earlier this year.
Finally, for Keating, her answer could be summed up in three words: Fiona the Hippo. Fiona resides at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and has a robust social media presence. Fiona’s popularity speaks to Keating of the human potential for kindness and the shared love for animals, regardless of other differences.
The panelists turned to their own work creating and promoting content that reaches and resonates with consumers. For Emmett, content development happens from the ground up, with the team “brainstorming and developing in-house.” The key to reaching an audience and effectively “breaking through the clutter” has to do with cross-pollinating content across platforms, to achieve a “360-degree” vision. Keating gave an example of a project that has reached the teen community by using “quantitative and qualitative analysis” resulting from surveys of thousands of teenage consumers. Penguin Random’s teen lifestyle site Underlined offers book buzz and beyond, broadly tying into pop-culture news—offering book recommendations based on readers’ favorite shows, movies, music, and more—and includes opportunities for teenage readers to connect with authors and other fans. The site provides a platform for getting the word out about new books, reaching readers who already have an investment in book news. After all, “what’s the point of content development, if nobody knows about it?” she asked.
Perry describes Sesame Workshop as “a nonprofit educational organization out to change the world,” but it doesn’t operate in a vacuum; the team seeks out and maintains partnerships with a spectrum of educational, publishing, and entertainment organizations. She noted that the organization’s Autism Social Impact Initiative, “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” (which includes the introduction of Julia to the show), has garnered a great deal of enthusiasm and has led them to team with Random House for a publishing program.
Throughout her career, Dolasia has observed that “kids do not consume news like adults.” In particular, they aren’t likely to go online seeking breaking news. Instead, they seek out content when, for instance, they have a project assignment. For DOGO, content is designed to offer educational material that readers may need for a school project, but the material presented also pivots to other areas of interest. “[Kids] may come to see a cheetah racing a car, but stay for other content,” Dolasia said.
Harkening back to the panelists’ own recent memorable media moments, Perry emphasized how she feels that the most successful marketing outreach “isn’t a call to buy a book, but a call to an experience,” she said. She elaborated by saying that it is very often “something meaningful outside of the purchase” that actually will lead to consumers buying a product.
In closing the panelists shared some of their own innovative strategies that have been particularly effective in drawing attention to their brands. For Dolasia, having kids write their own book reviews has been a big hit for DOGO: “Kids listen to kids. My kids don’t want to listen to me about anything, not just books,” she joked. But she knows that kids will go to stores to seek out books based on the DOGO reviews by their peers. Keating spoke about the recent partnership between Random House and Lionsgate for the “Choose Kind” program surrounding the release of the Wonder film. Keating described how the program takes the powerful content of the book and film and, through the partnership, “brings it to the next level.” Emmett shared National Geographic’s recent Facebook Live experiment that the publisher staged surrounding its Weird but True series. In the courtyard of their offices, staffers “acted out weird but true facts.” Not only did the activity “engage so many people in the moment on social media,” but it was also a vital bonding experience for Emmett and her colleagues. Speaking of cross-pollination and partnerships, Dolasia shared that DOGO held a Weird But True site takeover that very day.