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I want to be… a publicity executive

Hilary Bell is PR Exec at a large children’s publisher. She’s been working in publishing for five years and was Head of Events at the SYP.


Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Hilary. To start things off, can you walk us through a typical working day?

I start work at 8.30am and I really appreciate having that early part of the day to sift through my to-do list and fire off emails. Every day is different, which is really fulfilling – I could be drafting a PR campaign for a submission we are pitching for, or go to a covers meeting with sales, rights and export to discuss the latest covers with editorial and design, or send out a press release and book mailer to my media contacts, or meet festival organisers to pitch for event spots for our authors. In pre-c19 times, autumn would be full of back-to-back school tours, going up and down the country taking our fab authors into schools. This year we’re taking them online. My friends always mock me when I say I’m going ‘on tour’ again! Outreach into schools is such a rewarding part of the job.

I am continually amazed by how much energy publicists have - I don't know how you do it! So, what is the most satisfying part of your job?

I looooove seeing a book find the reception it deserves. To know that you’ve played a part in kids finding their favourite book is magical.

I also adore going to, planning and organising events, and feeling the excitement crackle in the room. When you get a group of people together who all love the same book and the same authors, it is so, so special.

That is such a wonderful thing! What are some of the skills that a publicity executive will develop?

Relationship skills and communication are definitely skills that you’ll develop. There’s so many stakeholders involved in PR campaigns, including the author, agent, other departments in the company, media contacts, schools, festivals – and learning how to juggle all of their needs is crucial.

Pitching and thinking creatively is another. Every book and campaign is different, and I love cracking on with a blank PowerPoint to come up with ideas for the campaign!

That's so true - a blank slate can be really exciting. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work in Publicity?

Do lots of research, read widely, create opportunities to connect with people. Go to book events, keep an eye out for what works in events and campaigns. Show you’re passionate, be nice to people, and, also, back yourself. Publicity is such a fun section of publishing – the live events, getting books into more hands ­– it really is worth it.

Is there specific prep that you would recommend for anyone currently interviewing – or hoping to interview – for a publishing job?

Before I go into interviews, I interviewi myself and record it on voice notes. Questions like, Why do you want to work in campaigns, Why this company?, What achievement are you most proud of? It is so, so cringey to listen back to, but means the chance of being thrown off guard in the interview is slightly less – and it definitely helps my confidence!

That is really good advice - I often write down my answers to possible questions and then practise them out loud, but I'd never thought of recording myself.

So, last question, because the pubishing industry is of course an ever-changing beast but sometimes it moves more quickly than others, what positive change would you like to bring to the industry?

The industry needs to change so much! As people who work in books, we have a responsibility to make sure all voices are being published and marketed, and, right now, we need to focus on the voices that have been ignored. I’d like to know children can go into a bookshop and find a book with a character that looks like them. We need to hire a more diverse workforce and publish more widely, and make sure those books are given proper marketing spend too. For books to both shape and reflect society, we have a lot of work we must do.


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