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Penguin Random House’s head of multicultural marketing on leveling the reading field

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By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

March 16, 2023 | 8 min read

As the deadline for The Drum Awards for Marketing America approaches, we catch up with judge Anthony Key, head of multicultural marketing at Penguin Random House.

Anthony Key

Anthony Key, head of multicultural marketing at Penguin Random House

Anthony Key’s career spans two decades at both ad agencies and brands from automotive to telecom and retail. For the last three years, he has led Penguin Random House’s multicultural developments as head of multicultural marketing for consumer marketing.

Before he enters the jury room [entries close 23 March], The Drum talks to Key about how the publisher is capturing the attention of diverse audiences, building its own first-party data sets, and why strategy is a key player when marking awards entries.

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What does the role of head of multicultural marketing entail?

I look over our US population and think about the composition of the audience. And the goal is to diversify our Penguin Random House universe. Making sure that we're bringing in people as readers of different backgrounds, across the board. That could be different racial and ethnic backgrounds or different socio-economic levels but ensuring that we are exposing everybody to the joys of reading.

We do multiple campaigns throughout the year, and many can be rooted in cultural heritage months. But we’ve made the active decision to make sure that we are 365 days a year. So, we’re launching campaigns that specifically reach individuals from various communities.

Our ‘Always Black Campaign’ is about reaching audiences who like to celebrate and enjoy the work of Black authors and writers across the board. It’s open to everyone but we see that more people in the Black community have really latched on to it. We work with influencer Cree Myles, who curates this channel for us. It’s a campaign but it also exists as a social media channel, so that we are authentically reaching out to the community and talking about things that they want to talk about.

What trends are you seeing in terms of diverse representation?

There is movement. A few months after I came into this role, we tried to create a proxy measure to see how the composition of our audience was changing. It’s not possible to look at the race and ethnicity of people and make that determination. So, we put a proxy measure in place. And with that, we have been seeing the composition of the audience change.

Primarily, we have a core white reader audience and what we’ve seen is that percentage going down steadily as we've been diversifying the population. Individual groups have been continuing to grow. And then there are other groups that we’re trying to address consistently. We’re looking at Latinx and Hispanic populations, as well as our Asian and Black populations, and then everybody who would be classified as other within multicultural. And we’re tracking those numbers on an ongoing basis to see what level of movement we’re making and what shifts we need to make in our strategy to be able to adjust accordingly and bring in more people.

In 2021, Penguin Random House became the first advertiser to use MediaMath’s multicultural marketplace. How is the initiative going and what kind of results have you seen?

There has been a high level of efficiency in terms of being able to reach those audiences. We were able to be more targeted in our efforts. And obviously, the more targeted we are, the more effective we are in reaching the audience. What we’ve seen is our return on ad spending numbers going up by being able to use platforms like MediaMath.

Now we can build our own first-party data sets. We will be able to create look-alike audiences, add to the number of people that we’re reaching out to and know that we’re talking to the right people. It has resulted in us being able to build our own custom audiences within so we’re not reaching every single person within a community with the same thing. We’re now able to look at it beyond a race factor and ask which author they like specifically. What their genre of choice is and how often they are purchasing books. So we’re able to add all of these first-party data points together to make sure that we continue to target people more efficiently.

What’s a piece of work that you’re particularly proud of in your career?

It would have to be the Colgate Max Fresh, which focused on freshening your breath. One insight of that campaign was how it’s important to have toothpaste with you on a date. We created a comic strip with a Colgate Max Fresh character. And he was out there giving millennials advice on dating. But it all started with self-care. It started off as a comic book strip and evolved into creating animation as movie trailers in a multi-level campaign. It resulted in increased shares for the brand, and it’s a program that lasted for three years. We’re in Colgate world, that’s forever.

Colgate Max Fresh Comic

What’s your biggest source of inspiration?

For me, it’s understanding people. Social media is a great place to be able to get that first-hand account unedited. I spend a lot of time going through social media, just to find insights into what people are looking for. We always talk about culture and that means something different to every single person. You really need to go into different pathways in social media, following different people from various backgrounds. That’s when you truly get a sense of culture. And you understand the nuanced differences between people, as well as the commonalities.

What are you looking for in an award-winning entry?

I’m somebody who loves strategy and to me, that’s having a deep level of understanding of your audience. You’re picking out insights that are deep. It’s important to celebrate that work across the board because so many people put a lot of effort into these marketing campaigns. Awards are a celebration of the entire journey, which allows you to address the entire team, not just marketing teams or creative pieces but also balancing the art and science.

What I’m looking at in the entries is how the strategy was created. I want to see something I haven’t seen before or something I wouldn’t have thought of but was a really smart piece of insight.

The deadline for the awards is Thursday 23 March. Make sure you enter your award-winning work.

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