As a child, Angela Tribelli would hide under the covers to read past her bedtime before being caught and told to go to sleep. Her love of books continues to this day, though she no longer needs to worry about getting in trouble.
In fact, Tribelli is now surrounded by books all day.
Two years ago, Tribelli became CMO of HarperCollins Publishers, one of the leading book publishers in the world. Although she had never worked in the “book biz” before, Tribelli did have a great deal of experience in digital marketing, and with tablets and ebooks becoming more the norm, HarperCollins was looking to go in a less traditional way with its hire.
Tribelli has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing strategies, brand building, strategic planning, content development, revenue generation, operations, and team building. The Wharton School MBA graduate joined HarperCollins following a five-year stint at NYC & Company, where she helped promote New York City and tourism as the company’s senior vice president of digital. Prior to that, she spent nearly 10 years at magazine publishing house American Express Publishing, working in both editorial and digital roles. She also working in the online division of magazine publisher Conde Nast, and Papermag.com, the Web version of Paper Magazine.
CMO.com recently spoke to Tribelli about how her background was ideal for the new way of business at HarperCollins (read: digital), a trio of initial goals she set—and met—when she first became CMO, why she considers interns to be key assets, and the trickiest part about analytics.
CMO.com: You came to HarperCollins with no background in book publishing; what was it about the position that appealed to you?
Tribelli: My position at HarperCollins was, in many ways, a dream role—largely because no one had previously filled it. That blank slate provided tremendous freedom to collaborate with my colleagues and craft a set of goals tailored to the needs of the organization.
I’ve been very lucky in my career: I’ve always worked in industries that I was personally passionate about—food, travel, culture, New York City, and now books. I was that kid who stayed up late at night with a flashlight and a Ramona Quimby adventure under the bed covers. ... As it happens, HarperCollins publishes the Ramona Quimby series, so I feel like I’ve come full circle, in the best way.
CMO.com: What was your philosophy going into the interview process, and how do you think your way of thinking made the company see you as fit for the position?
Tribelli: Listen, learn, understand the common pain points, and operationalize a solution. I think this is true of any organization: Understanding the common themes is critical to solving immediate issues, as well as pointing to exciting opportunities for future growth and innovation.
CMO.com: What were some of the goals you set upon taking the job, and which have you been able to check off the list?
Tribelli: Many of the initial goals were the result of a listening tour across the organization, coupled with the insights my team brought to the table. The goals laddered up to three main buckets.
First, we put the operational side of the marketing house in order. We streamlined processes, reduced the number of vendors we worked with, improved internal customer service, and generally made it easier for the divisional marketers to get their jobs done. Getting the operational basics right means everyone has more breathing space to focus on the bigger picture.
Second, we began to zero in on consumer marketing: focusing on audience development to increase both the number and the quality of consumers we reached on behalf of our authors, building the marketing platforms and tailoring the messaging to serve that target audience, and, crucially, agreeing on which metrics were real indicators of success. Creating a marketing vernacular that everyone utilizes is critical—it means we’re all speaking the same language.
Third, we always look to partner with innovators, whether that’s forward-leaning brands or best-in-class agencies on the partnership side, or emerging technologies on the development side. We always strive to keep pushing the envelope on what we can deliver, and judge the value through the lens of the author. If it doesn’t help our authors, why are we doing it?
CMO.com: You mention “pushing the envelope.” Can you cite one out-of-the-box idea that you have tried and seen success with at the company?
Tribelli: We ran a very successful promotion with American Airlines and Hudson News over the holidays. As marketers, we aim to reach the right audience, at the right time, with the right message—and, ideally, deliver real value to consumers. For this program, we partnered with AA and Hudson Booksellers to develop a 360-degree airport promotion during both the busiest travel period and the busiest retail period for booksellers. For the month of December, every first- and business-class passenger on over 2,500 AA flights received a Samsung device for the duration of their flight preloaded with eight of our best-selling novels, including current megahits like “Divergent” from Veronica Roth, Amy Tan’s “Valley of Amazement,” and Mitch Albom’s “First Phone Call from Heaven.” In addition, all passengers could download free samples of the books to their own devices, and receive a discount on the promoted books at Hudson News outlets in over 40 U.S. and Canadian airports.
Holiday travel can be stressful. By working with our partners, we created an opportunity to reward and entertain travelers the best way we know how—with great books.
CMO.com: So much has changed in the publishing world in such a short time. What do you see as the biggest untapped opportunities for HarperCollins, and how have you gone about making those a reality?
Tribelli: There are huge global factors in play for all publishers, and how we tackle those will be critical in the coming years. For example, we’re seeing ebook adoption flatten in the U.S. while growing tremendously around the world. The question becomes, how do we effectively tap into those markets, and what are the implications for our digital product development pipeline and marketing, particularly as it relates to reading on mobile devices?
CMO.com: Obviously, the Web and ebooks have taken over a great deal of the market in recent years. What challenges does that create for your marketing strategy?
Tribelli: The number of channels in which consumers engage has multiplied rapidly. Knowing when to dabble in a channel and when to double down is key.
CMO.com: How has the advent of digital media changed the industry and HarperCollins as a brand?
Tribelli: It’s changed everything—how people read books, how we market those books, and, more and more, how we hire. It used to be that summer interns were given a well-defined set of entry-level tasks. Today, they tackle some of our most exciting emerging opportunities. We talk about digital natives all the time, but native to what? Digital evolves so rapidly: As more channels come online, we need a constant stream of young people who live and breathe in those worlds to come in, engage with our audiences, spread their wings, and fly. As I see it, this is the golden age of the intern—and we’re accepting applications.
CMO.com: Mobile is growing by leaps and bounds in all industries. How has that played a role in your marketing efforts at HarperCollins?
Tribelli: First, we’re covering the basics. Everything we do digitally needs to be responsive or mobile-friendly. For example, ebooks need to render well on mobile devices. Beyond that, we’re constantly innovating and experimenting with mobile as its own medium, whether that’s mobile app development, location- and device-based messaging, and beyond.
CMO.com: How do you use social media platforms to your advantage?
Tribelli: Tailoring your message to the medium. Consumers are savvy, and we need to engage in ways that are authentic. According to Adweek, HarperCollins had the top piece of content produced by any brand—not just publishing brands, but any brand—on BuzzFeed in 2013. The piece, “17 Problems Only Book Lovers Would Understand,” was not a hard sell, but it did speak perfectly to the audience.
CMO.com: How do you use the data and metrics HarperCollins collects to make choices that will help the company grow?
Tribelli: Analytics are critical. Almost everything we do in the marketing space has moved from anecdotal to quantifiable. The trick is getting people to agree on which metrics matter. The good news is that most marketers want to understand what’s working, and want to be able to flaunt the results. Our big focus now as it relates to analytics is direct marketing to consumers on behalf of our authors. We’re pouring resources into our email marketing efforts, and seeing some exciting results.
CMO.com: Describe the relationship you have with your president, Michael Morrison. What are his expectations of you and your team?
Tribelli: My relationship with Michael is exactly what I would want: As a publishing veteran, he helps guide my big-picture understanding of the industry and our company, and I then work with my team and the divisional marketing groups to develop the strategies and tactics that answer to our organizational goals. Plus, he’s just a terrific and supportive manager.
CMO.com: With all the channels you have to deal with, how do you measure what works for marketing, and how do you prove this to C-level?
Tribelli: We track everything. We know how well consumers convert to sales on Twitter vs. Facebook vs. email. Ultimately, our goal is to move consumers up the marketing funnel from engagement to sales. But sometimes we simply want to entertain and delight readers, and that’s OK, as long as we’re clear on our goals.
CMO.com: What is the biggest misconception that people have about your job?
Tribelli: [It’s all] three-martini lunches and a rolling cocktail cart at 4 p.m. I hear that was the case many years ago, but it was definitely before my time.
CMO.com: How do you see marketing of the brand changing in the next five to 10 years?
Tribelli: I could make a dozen predictions about that, and my hope is that half would be wrong. If I knew what our world looked like 10 years from now, building the path to get there wouldn’t be nearly as fun.