Cincinnati's Joseph-Beth Booksellers used to have a hard time getting business authors to visit the store to do book signings. But then the store noticed the activities of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, particularly its periodic, well-attended two-hour breakfast meetings. The format of these meetings, which typically drew several hundred attendees, was a continental breakfast, a speaker and a q&a session with the speaker afterward.
"We started talking to the Chamber of Commerce about partnerships we could do," said Annette Meurer, marketing and public relations manager for the store. The result: the Chamber and Joseph-Beth now co-host breakfast meetings with business authors as the featured speakers. The store solicits authors, and the publishers pay their travel expenses. A copy of the author's book is included in the admission fee—typically between $35 and $50—which means the bookstore can guarantee book sales to the publisher. (The attendee gets high value for the money: a breakfast, a meeting and an autographed book.)
The store usually buys from the publisher and sells the books to the Chamber at a 20% discount; the two share promotional costs. Both get publicity for the event; the Chamber produces promotional materials and the store does in-store promotion with banners and signs. At each event, Meurer said, Joseph-Beth has an opportunity to promote itself through the Chamber "in a nice, low-key way: we have our newsletter there, coffee coupons and sign-up sheets for our mailing list."
In the Cincinnati area there are several event sites to choose from, although Xavier University is the preferred location because its facilities can accommodate meetings of various sizes. Additionally, it has its own catering service, making it cost-effective for the Chamber of Commerce. The audiences, Meurer said, are generally made up of "a lot of company presidents, human resources people and mid-level managers. We are an engineering town, plus we have Ford, Procter & Gamble, General Electric and metal manufacturers. Since the Chamber of Commerce promotes to the companies, we get that kind of turnout."
Meurer stressed that the Chamber of Commerce is not trying to turn a profit; it just needs to break even. Often, the Chamber approaches larger businesses for about $2,500 in corporate sponsorship to cover the cost of the venue. In return the sponsor is mentioned in promotional materials and is associated with a particular author. If the sponsor wishes, it can send a representative to speak at the breakfast.
Joseph-Beth first solicited John Wiley & Sons for business authors. The company, which was key in making the program work, Meurer said, sent authors like Patrick M. Lencioni, author of The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (Jossey-Bass), who addressed an audience of nearly 200 at the Chamber's annual trade show. Jim Kouzes (Leadership Challenge, Jossey- Bass) "was a real coup—there was a lot of buzz, over 200 people showed up." Another Wiley author was Sergio Zyman, former Coca-Cola CEO and author of The End of Advertising as We Know It, which attracted more than 300 people.
Adrian Slywotzky (The Art of Profitability, Warner) drew 60 people—less than the optimum turnout—but in the audience were "a lot of CEOs, even the head of our company," said Meurer.
Booksellers wishing to implement similar programs should start by approaching the local Chamber of Commerce, Meurer advised. "Contact the head of educational programs and invite her to the store for coffee. Find out about what they do, how they bring speakers in, and whether there's an interest."
She also suggested preparing by checking publishers' catalogues to see what books are coming out, which business authors are touring and "pick up the phone to find out who's the publicist. That way you get on the publisher's radar screen."
Meurer also recommended involving the Chamber of Commerce during the planning stages. "I gave our Chamber of Commerce catalogues and had them pick out authors they would and would not want," she said. "This helped me understand the kinds of topics to go for. They were interested in leadership and management issues, for instance, but not so much in personal finance." When the events are set, she suggested, let sales reps know about them.
The breakfast idea continues to grow. "We started out slow, but now publishers are calling," Meurer said. "Aside from the publisher and bookstore getting guaranteed sales, and the Chamber of Commerce getting to hear a world-class speaker, most authors have their own companies, so it's a wonderful opportunity even for them to do some networking! Everyone goes away happy."