Meet the Publicists Behind Our Book Campaigns: Random House’s Felix Cruz
Most people’s daily work looks at least a little bit different than it did two years ago, but few industries have evolved as rapidly as publicity has. Seemingly overnight, publicists had to shift their focus from multi-city book tours to virtual events; from mailers to digital galleys—all in the midst of a tumultuous media landscape where breaking through the clutter is harder than it ever has been.
In our new Igloo series, “Meet the Publicists Behind Our Book Campaigns,” we share profiles of divisional publicity team members who have been responsible for a wide range of recent book launches, highlighting their innovative strategies and tactics, media wins, and expert collaboration as they work to sell books and raise our authors’ profiles.
This week, we present Felix Cruz, Random House Publicity Associate and Co-Chair of POC@PRH, who works primarily on Ten Speed and Clarkson Potter titles, but also on select nonfiction books within the Random House group. The following Q&A delves into how Felix and his colleagues adapted publicity efforts within the hybrid work world, the surge in popularity of cookbooks during the pandemic, and the standout stellar campaign for Rick Martinez’s MI COCINA: Recipes and Rapture From My Kitchen in Mexico (Clarkson Potter).
Given current world events and our hybrid working environment, how have you and your publicity colleagues adjusted your book launch strategies with your authors, the media, and booksellers?
In many ways, the integrated marketing and publicity team at Ten Speed and Clarkson Potter was uniquely positioned for the pivot to digital well before the pandemic. When I joined in 2019 our team was already working on both coasts, some working remotely and in a hybrid situation, with lots of virtual/conference call communication. Because most of our titles are illustrated or contain lots of photography, our team was already comfortable securing and sharing PDFs and Box links to distribute galleys and advance materials.
When the pandemic began and we began to work from home, we simply continued to do what we had put into practice in the office. We also had another competitive advantage on our team because of our unique content: cookbooks. Readers and consumers were now at home, in their kitchens every day, cooking their own meals, fixing their own snacks, and mixing their own drinks. Our food and drink titles were right there to comfort and guide consumers through the uncertainty of the pandemic through the everyday certainty of food. Successful frontlist titles such as COOL BEANS by Joe Yonan or VEGETABLE KINGDOM by Bryant Terry empowered weary consumers to make the most of their pantry staples and fresh produce, while the iconic backlist title FLOUR WATER SALT YEAST by Ken Forkish shot up to become a New York Times bestseller as everyone made fresh sourdough bread at home.
Our team’s strategy from the beginning was to deepen and strengthen the skill-sets and assets we already had in place, refining them to meet the nimbleness required in our new all virtual environment, maintaining confidence and enthusiasm with media and booksellers. Our authors were already producing the content consumers wanted and needed in the early days of the pandemic; our aim was to continue to champion our quality content to meet the hunger of the moment and we did that together as a unified and deeply collaborative team.
What have been some of the challenges and most rewarding aspects of the publicity campaign for MI COCINA by Rick Martinez?
The biggest challenge for all publicists is breaking a voice out from the crowd. Every season there are so many diverse and innovative food and drink titles that are released but only a limited number of journalists and writers that cover food and drink nationally. But unlike other nonfiction titles that might be easily tied to current events or the news cycle, cookbooks push us publicists to think about specific questions: Why this food? Why this author? Why now? Rick Martinez was already a popular name in the food world, but how could we push this title further and reach a wider audience?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a manager, mentor, and co-partner for this campaign in David Hawk. From the beginning of our time together, David has been an invaluable guide and resource in not only tackling these tough questions but also thinking through the right strategy and alchemy to put a title over the top, move that golden needle, and make the New York Times list. Collaboration, brainstorming, and working through ideas are THE key to facing the challenges of any robust and highly anticipated book release and David’s insights and encouragement are singular and immense!
Some of the most exciting moments in the MI COCINA campaign were: learning that ABC White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega would be interviewing Rick for his Good Morning America segment, pursuing NPR Morning Edition until we got that ever-prized “Yes!” email, and of course, learning that the book had made the New York Times list not once, but twice, moving up from #10 to #9 in the second week!
How do you measure the success of the campaigns you’ve worked on, and what projects are you most proud of?
Beyond the metrics we publicists know and crave (national TV and radio broadcast bookings, the NYT list, bundled and ticketed multiple-city tours) one way I measure my work as a publicist is by asking: How has (or how will) this title advance the conversation on a given topic or issue?
Being lucky to work on other titles such as Hanif Abdurraqib’s A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA, Bryant Terry’s BLACK FOOD, or the recently Eisner-nominated BLACK PANTHER PARTY have taught me how important our work as publicists is to shaping the national conversation around an issue.
I’m a firm believer that every cultural moment and movement should have a book to reference or guide it. Beginning with MI COCINA and looking on into the rest of 2022, most of the titles I am working on are written by BIPOC first-generation authors of various immigrant diasporas who are all tackling the important questions of our time: What does home mean? How can I cultivate identity and belonging through food and writing? How do I articulate my identity against the grain in a world that is constantly changing? From MI COCINA, to the forthcoming DIASPORICAN by Illyanna Maisonet or FIRST GENERATION by Frankie Gaw, the elevation of these visions and perspectives through national media campaigns is essential for moving the discourse around diversity, belonging, and social justice. As a first-generation Salvadoran American the success of these authors and their titles is as much a professional as well as a personal victory for me.
As publicists, if we can continue to use our skill-sets—relationship-building and love of books—to change the conversation around key cultural topics towards equity, justice, and inclusion in the long-run, then we are being successful.
A note to PRH colleagues: suggestions for publicists to feature in the “Meet the Publicists Behind Our Book Campaigns” series are welcomed and can be e-mailed to email@example.com.