When an Agency Becomes a Book Publisher

November 2, 2016 Ron Tite, CEO of The Tite Group

As you may have heard, The Tite Group is now a publisher. 

Come again? Yup. We just published This is That Travel Guide to Canada, a satirical look at travel books through the lens of the CBC Radio show, This is That. (The show and book are satire of the highest order but don’t worry, this article is legit.)

This may seem odd for a content agency that creates and distributes content for brands. We spend a lot of our time creating videos and cook books and blog posts and social content and podcasts for brands who use content to drive sales in other places. 

This project was a little different. 

We didn’t write it. 
It was written by the same people who write the show.  

We didn’t design it. 
It was designed by one of the best book designers in the country, Peter Cocking.

We aren’t distributing it. 
We signed a deal with Raincoast Books, the same people who distributed Harry Potter

We aren’t selling it. 
With amazing penetration in most retailers across the country and a live national show that starts in January, we don’t need to be hawking books out of the trunks of our car. 

We’re not the creator. We’re the publisher. 
Here’s why and how we did it.

1. A brand is a brand. But so is a show. 
Brands have to be media properties. But media properties have to be brands, too. When a CPG company has a successful food product, they crank out additional SKUs faster than you can say, “new-and-improved-gluten-free-lower-salt-whole-wheat-no-cholestoral-kids-version”. When something is successful, marketers extend the brand (and all of its values) into new places for new people. Media properties have to do the same thing. We knew that the work we did with brands could be applied to shows. We were right. 

2. We did it to do it. 
We didn’t start out wanting to be a publisher. We didn’t start out with financial projections. We didn’t even have a business case for what this would do for the agency. It wasn’t about the bottom line, it was about living the values that we spend a lot of time talking about: Let’s create stuff that people want to see instead of stuff they have to see. We had a hunch that people wanted to see (and hear and read) more of This is That. We just worked our butts off to ensure that the project would happen and tried to add value throughout the process. In the end, it made sense for us to be the publisher but we certainly didn’t start out that way. 

3. Disrupt the disruptors. 
On one side, the book world has traditional publishers. We love traditional publishers. My own book, Everyone’s an Artist (or at least they should be) co-written with Scott Kavanagh and Christopher Novais was published by HarperCollins. They’re wonderful people who are great to work with and who were right for that particular book. On the other side, you have the publishing disruptors: Self publishing. Print on demand. E-book purchase. Book in a Box. Amazon. In a world that is busy dividing itself into “The Ruling Class” and “The Revolutionaries”, we thought there was an interesting space in the middle. Retail’s not dead. People still love print. And publishers add a ton of value. We didn’t want to stick it to “the man” because in a lot of cases, we ARE the man (in a non-gender specific kinda way). 

4. Distance ourselves. 
The only way to stand out in a crowded group of agencies is to never join the group in the first place. It seems like every agency leads with, “We’re not like other agencies…” before launching into a highlight reel of 30 second TV spots. Well, we actually wanted to live it. It’s not what we say that makes us a different agency, it’s what we do. We don’t always get it right but we’ll continue to differentiate ourselves through our actions and initiatives. This one helped us do that. 

5. We got out of the way. 
As the publisher, we wrote the cheques and took a lot of risk so it was our right to make suggestions and changes to the book. 

We didn’t.

We’ve had enough of our work compromised over the years to know that creative by committee always results in the lowest common denominator. We believed in CBC’s creative talent from the start and we got out of the way so they could do what they do best. When it came to our creative work, they did the same. 

6. Books are more than books. 
Content consumption happens in a variety of ways on a variety of platforms through a variety of devices. Not surprisingly, we sliced, diced, and spliced the book to address that. We created an e-book version (available here). An audio book version (available here). A teaser video (seen here). A book trailer (seen here). Social posts. Tweets. 

7. Build a concept car. 

The problem with doing something completely new is that there are no rules to follow. This entrepreneurial spirit can be incredibly fun but it can also be expensive. Entire departments can be left spinning as you work through the process. Ugh. It’s not fair to people and it's certainly not fair to your existing clients. So we didn’t. We pulled this project off the assembly line and approached it the way GM approaches a concept car: There’s no expectation of profit and it doesn’t get in the way of the manufacturing process. We kept our team very small (2 people) and we relied on the expertise of others (Page Two Strategic Publishing was the knowledge backbone of the project and Raincoast Books was collaborative beyond belief). I’m certain that the primary reason this initiative is already a success is because we constantly put purpose before profit.

THAT’S innovation. It's not easy, it's not fast, and it's not always clear. But we should spend more of time doing it than talking about it.



This is That Travel Guide to Canada

Authors: Pat Kelly, Peter Oldring, Chris Kelly, Dave Shumka
Network: CBC Radio
Publisher: The Tite Group
Publishing Consultants: Page Two Strategic Publishing
Retail Distribution: Raincoast Books
Project Lead, The Tite Group: Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai
Creative Director, The Tite Group: Jamie King
Strategy Director, The Tite Group: Daniel Langer-Hack
Book Design: Peter Cocking
Video Production: Kelly&Kelly
Video Editor: Chris Kelly
Video Post Production: The Tite Group
Social Copy: Jan Caruana
Website and Social Design: James White

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