A marketer’s deconstruction of a Poetry Archive

Pendemic paper at International Digital Marketing Week 2021

My long-suffering thesis supervisor invited me to give a paper about Pendemic at International Digital Marketing Week 2021, an online conference co-hosted by TU Dublin and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. I felt it was the least I could do having never submitted the thesis (all 40k words are softbound somewhere in my attic).

Edel had given me a loose title: ‘Digital Experiences of Covid’. Given the audience were marketing students, I felt a deconstruction of Pendemic.ie from a marketer’s point of view might be the best way to tell the story. I only had a few bullet points on 3-4 slides but I’ll try to recreate the narrative.

The Idea

  • I told them how everyone’s rapid adjustment to the ‘new normal’ compelled me to try to document it before it was forgotten.
  • We did a soft launch around St. Patrick’s Day 2020 because every site or app should start with a soft launch with trusted readers/users to pick out any bugs and to make necessary tweaks.
  • I stressed the importance of having credibility within the tribe. Initially, I approached a few writers I  knew on Twitter but to be honest I didn’t have any literary kudos so I got excuses instead of submissions. The site only got traction when my co-founders [Liz, Ruth, and Niall], all blue bloods in the Irish literary scene,  started sharing and inviting submissions via their own networks. A lesson for any marketer is to have an insider if breaking into new territory, sectoral or geographic.  Not that this was intended, it’s merely an observation in hindsight.

The Results

  • Nearly 2k submissions
  • # Views: >181k
  • # Visitors: >77k
  • # Comments: >850
  • c. 1k followers on Twitter / 1.1k email subscribers
  • Sources: Facebook, Twitter, organic search, WP readers, Instagram
  • Coverage on National broadcast, print and online media in IRL/UK

All of this was achieved with zero marketing, not even a press release. The only proactive elements were a) setting up auto tweets from the Pendemic_ie handle once a submission was published and b) replying to contributors with a link to their published submission encouraging them to share across social media. The success of this strategy is evident from the referred traffic from Facebook when we did not have a Facebook presence. 

20/20 Marketing: Hindsight

Giving this paper a year after the site was launched afforded me the  opportunity to assess it from a marketer’s point of view and here is why I think it worked:

  • A Disruptive Publishing model
    • We exceeded expectations in our publishing turnaround. Submissions went live within hours which is not typical within publishing.  It’s standard enough to wait up to 6 months for a yay/nay and during that time it is considered bad form to submit the same work elsewhere. Very slow!
    • A democratic non-elitist platform. 
      We published all submissions from writers, amateurs, and everyone in between provided they followed our submission guidelines. It was important for us to gather diverse points of view so literary merit was irrelevant. Many contributors had never been published before.
  • Uncompromisingly Niche
    Again in hindsight, it is easy to see how doggedly we stuck to our guns by only publishing material in direct response to the pandemic. We turned down un-related writing even when it was difficult. That summer, the #BLM movement was in full swing and we received some literary responses which we didn’t publish.  There was a method to our madness. I come across this a lot working with start-ups when they’re trying to be all things to all men when all they need to do is find one problem to solve and nail it. Later you can add more bells and whistles. 
  • Communication
    While it might be hard to see beyond the relentless workflow of written reports, pitches, and case study presentations that are part of parcel of an undergrad in marketing, fear not for it will stand to you. In years to come, you’ll be able to hold your own talking on live radio and remaining in control during interviews with journalists. You’ll have your list of bullet points you want to get across rather than rambling aimlessly without an agenda.

I finished up talking about some of the highlights for me personally such as the  Letters to Andrew,  the correspondence with contributors, and the entire site being preserved for the next 50-100 years in UCD Special Collections.

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