In this space, I usually write about new and innovative campaigns that we’ve waged on behalf of our clients. Every once in a while, though, it’s nice to focus on a good old-fashioned publicity campaign that worked—especially when it’s a book that might have been overlooked had it not been for our efforts and hard work on the part of the author. This one was a true collaboration.
Last spring, we handled what I constantly referred to as my “little book that could,” Rust Belt Boy: Stories from an American Childhood by Paul Hertneky. Paul is from my hometown of Hancock, New Hampshire—so it was incumbent upon me to do a good job if I ever wanted to show my face at the local market or dump again. He was referred to us by our wonderful friends and clients, Sy Montgomery, Howard Mansfield and publisher Sarah Bauhan.
Here was the challenge: how does a publicist make news out of a memoir by a New Hampshire writer who grew up outside Pittsburgh? In this case, it was all about the writing. For example, his memories of walking into his grandmother’s kitchen were so evocative (and, in fact, mouth-watering), that any reader could identify. We promoted this book with an almost religious fervor, extolling its virtues to just about anyone in the media who would listen.
After warning Paul that reviews would be few and far between, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal both proved us wrong and weighed in with early, positive reviews. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh City Paper, and Manchester, NH’s Union Leader and Hippo followed suit covering their hometown/adopted hometown boy.
On a practical level, the book opened itself up to a number of solid media opportunities. Who knew that Pittsburgh was becoming a resurgent literary center? 3 new independent bookstores opened there while we were working on the project. A vibrant web site called Littsburgh ran an excerpt from the book, Paul’s community papers weighed in with reviews and features, and Pennsylvania public radio and a cable TV network produced statewide features, including a walk-around with the author in his hometown of Ambridge. Back in his other hometown in New Hampshire, he was featured on the state’s local All Things Considered.
But how to spread the word outside Pennsylvania and New Hampshire? Abby worked with him to beef up his social media presence and more effectively attract others to the book. We also discovered that there is quite a Rust Belt diaspora out there. Its members congregate in a national network of “Steelers Bars,” and although our off-season non-football related attempts at events in a few of those watering holes did not really pan out, they assisted us in garnering interviews on New York’s and Atlanta’s NPR affiliates. Plus, the bars reached out to all their Steelers fans on our behalf via social media. And we struck gold when Paul suggested we arrange an appearance at the Barnes & Noble at The Villages, the granddaddy of all Florida retirement communities. Many of the 1,000 members of the two Pittsburgh ex pat clubs at The Villages turned out.
And we capped it all off with Paul’s inclusion in a “Five over 50” feature in Poets & Writers Magazine. The book went into a second printing, and our “little book that could” is still selling thanks to our author’s own indefatigable efforts in other rust belt cities.