Client: Alfred A. Knopf (New York)
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Basket Case
Time Frame: January - present
Booking a radio tour to promote the death of a rock star and writing press releases glorifying a journalist's sagging career may seem more like a suspicious back-room crisis PR plan than a giant leap for the book publishing industry. Nevertheless, this was the agenda chosen by publisher Alfred A. Knopf to launch mystery writer and Miami Her-ald columnist Carl Hiaasen's eighth novel, Basket Case.
Extensive cross-promotional tie-ins wrapped the blazing sound of Warren Zevon's new track - co-titled Basket Case - to the novel's plot, a fictional chronicle of a journalist's investigation into the death of Jimmy Stoma, lead singer of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, for the January 2002 publicity launch.
"This campaign was unique. It is the first book in publishing history to be co-promoted with a song, says Knopf executive director of publicity Paul Bogaards. "Basket Case leapt out of the starting gate.
The promotion suggested the book publishing industry turned a corner."
The overall idea was to leverage the star appeal of a best-selling mystery novelist and a chart-topping rocker. According to Hiaasen, the promotion was much more fun and unorthodox than his previous book launches.
The centerpiece for the PR campaign - the Zevon song tie-in - rose from a longtime friendship and the lyrics Hiaasen wrote for the book. "In writing the book, I had to partially compose lyrics for the band's songs. I shared the lyrics with Warren, and asked if he had any interest in writing a cover song for the novel, explains Hiaasen.
"After some back and forth, Warren composed a great 1980s guitar lick backbone, and the sound of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies came to life."
Coordinating morning-show pitches, a 22-city author and national FM radio tour, book signings, and contacting book review journalists (a mainstay for new book titles), required extremely flexible media campaigning.
"We had a range of opportunities for securing coverage, says Bogaards.
"We contacted book reviewers, music editors, and rock critics. If we reached a dead end with one section, we'd move on to the next one."
"The song also opened up the avenue of FM radio, which is generally beyond the finite bandwidth that publishers target for the promotion of authors and books, Bogaards adds.
The Today show's interview with Hiaasen was followed by placements on NPR's Fresh Air, multiple articles in The New York Times, Rolling Stone.com, and a CBS feature showcasing Hiaasen and Zevon cutting tracks together in an LA studio.
The FM radio tour was key to extending the popularity of the book and the Zevon song. More than 20 major markets played the Zevon track during their interviews with Hiaasen.
"Knopf thought it would be cool to use the song on the promotional tour, especially since it was a song about the music business. It also gave the drive time and morning zoo guys something extra to do in the interview.
They ate it up, Hiaasen says.
Hiaasen's book signings regularly drew hundreds of fans, and the campaign helped keep the novel on the bestseller list for 10 weeks, climbing all the way to number three - the highest ranking ever for a Hiaasen book.
Artemis Records released the Warren Zevon CD My Ride's Here, featuring "Basket Case, in May, and Hiaasen's novel has been optioned for a movie.
Bogaards also predicts a bright future for crossover book promotions.
"We believe in partnerships, and look for ways to extend the outreach and popularity of our books. If there is a co-promotional avenue, we are willing to explore it, he says.