Under the Potter Tent

When an event like the release of a new Harry Potter book comes around with a built-in audience of millions, promotional opportunities need not be limited to the author or the publishing house.

When an event like the release of a new Harry Potter book comes around with a built-in audience of millions, promotional opportunities need not be limited to the author or the publishing house.

The anticipation for J.K. Rowling's sixth book about the boy wizard has been a worldwide event of epic proportions. The first run of printing in the US for the previous book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was 6.8 million. Banking on even higher returns, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's first US run will be 10.8 million copies.

The media is helping feed the frenzy, finding any angle to entertain readers about the various Potter-related events. Local papers gauged community opinion for the new book, business publications analyzed the financial implications for the publishers and retailers, and global media organizations discussed the security measures for keeping the books out of the public's hands. And they reported on the few instances when bookstores forgot about the embargo and sold the books early. The media even reported on Greenpeace urging US residents to purchase their copies from Canadian publishing house Raincoast because it deemed that publisher's books to be better for the environment.

The retailers have been very forthcoming with alerting the media to Potter book sales. Both BarnesandNoble.com (over 1 million) and Amazon.com (1.4 million), with its agency, MWW Group, sent press releases announcing pre-order tallies, which the media ran with full force.

Amazon.com also selected a panel of 10 children "experts" and hosted videos of the panelists explaining why they love "Harry Potter" and what they expect to read in the new book.

US publisher Scholastic has been doing its own work on the publicity front, holding essay contests and surveys to keep people coming to its website. Working with PR firm Goodman Media International, Scholastic also maintained a database listing 5,000-plus midnight Harry Potter parties occurring at booksellers nationwide.

"The anticipation is unlike any other phenomenon, but you still have to manage it well and answer the questions that the press has," says Kyle Good, VP of corporate communications and media relations.

The pains taken to make sure a copy of the book did not reach the public prematurely is just one of the many side stories that Scholastic has worked on.

"The [communications] department has been looking for the unique storylines, like the security involved with guarding the books and how older readers have grown up with the book," Good said.

Good said that the mainstream media were also very enthusiastic about the launch, evidenced by NBC's Today show holding a weeklong special "Countdown to Harry Potter."

"The mainstream media's appetite for Harry Potter has been insatiable," Good said.

Harry Potter devotees have been creating their own media, with meticulously updated news submitted by readers. Consumer-driven media were neither as prevalent in 2003, nor as well tracked. By Wednesday, Technorati has tracked 12,232 posts with the words "half-blood prince."

"A great deal [of outreach] is about the fans," Good said. "We talked to the big fan websites like The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet.com that love reporting about Harry Potter."

The only thing missing from the traditional press was any information about the book, as the publishing houses did not send out any advance copies and has closely guarded all copies of the books.

With 102 million Harry Potter books in print in the US, it's safe to say that a book review - negative or positive - wouldn't create a huge impact on sales. The other major aspect of a book release, a tour, does not appear to affect Rowling.

In the United Kingdom, Rowling will give only one television interview to Owen Jones, a 14 year-old Cardiff resident who won a contest, Harry Potter at the Castle - the Quest for the Ultimate Harry Potter Fan. The interview will take place in Edinburgh. Katie Couric of the Today show is scheduled to interview Rowling next week.

Bloomsbury, Rowling's UK publisher, helped "credential" 70 children reporters, most of whom were selected from contests run by newspapers, who will listen to her read from the book at 12:01 am on Saturday, July 16, then receive their own copy, and get to interview her on Sunday, July 17. The event, also held in Edinburgh, is being called the Harry Potter Children's Press Conference Weekend.

The first signed copies for both the UK and US are also events unto themselves. The UK version will be donated to the National Library of Scotland, while the US book will eventually end up at a public library chosen via another contest determined by Scholastic.

The US book traveled across the Atlantic from Edinburgh to New York via the Queen Mary II, which was announced via a Queen Mary II parent Cunard press release. Scholastic worked with Cunard on the arrangement.

Redpoint Marketing PR handled the event for its Cunard client, claiming it was the "first time in history that an internationally best-selling book has traveled to its international debut aboard an ocean liner."

The first signed US copy was transferred from the steamer via an armored car to an "undisclosed location" until Friday, when it will be delivered to Scholastic's headquarters in New York.

Vickie DeFalco, principal at Redpoint, said that the relationship between Cunard and Harry Potter made sense because they were both iconic British institutions.

"The news went out this week, and the reaction has been great so far, said Redpoint SVP Maria Andriano. "We're building momentum up until the book is released."

The PR push did not halt at Scholastic or the retailers. Alibris, a marketplace for used books, has garnered some attention by offering $5 for used copies of the book to fans who won't want to keep it as a memento.

Redpoint also handled the promotion of Affinia 50's Harry Potter Package, where the New York hotel is holding a book release party to guests staying Friday night.

While the Queen Mary event was a direct collaboration with the US publisher, the Affinia event was more a case of "jumping on the bandwagon," according to DeFalco.

"It's a great strategic tactic for any application [to be linked] to the news of the day," DeFalco said.

She said Affinia immediately grasped the potential when Redpoint proposed the idea. The hotel is working with the nearby Barnes & Noble, which will deliver the books at midnight, and the guests can expect to get them two minutes later.

Affinia announced the deal on the July 4, and has received mentions in an AP story, USA Today, and the Boston Globe, DeFalco said. The Harry Potter-and-hotel situation became part of a trend, which propelled the story further.

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