What does a publisher do? Manage brands

What does a publisher do? is a series of posts designed to answer that question, interpreted not in the sense of ‘What functions do publishers fulfil?’, but rather ‘What operations do publishers (well, this publisher, at any rate) perform?’ This post is the sixth in the series.

In ‘What does a publisher do? Manage security’, I said that our management of our own interest in our business (as owners) resolved into three activities: (a) security management; (b) strategy management; and (c) brand management. The current post focuses on the third of these.

Mention the phrase ‘brand management’ and one almost automatically begins to think of visual design, especially logos. Yet the business of creating a brand look is neither the most important aspect of brand management nor the starting point.

For a brand is surely a set of stakeholder expectations. If, in dealing with a company, its stakeholders find those expectations are not fulfilled, the visual look of the brand will rapidly become valueless. If iPhones didn’t work very well, the apple icon would lose its magic.


When we started to create a brand for our business, The Professional and Higher Partnership, we first wrote down the qualities that we hoped our stakeholders would say (or think) about us after dealing  with us. They included the following:

– professional

– traditional

– conservative-but-not-stuffy

– above all, trustworthy 

– with a touch of class.

The sense of trustworthiness was important because we wanted to build a business on repeat custom and loyal stakeholders, rather than having constantly on the prowl.

I did wonder whether ‘traditional’ was redundant, given that we also had ‘conservative’ there, but I realised this was not the case: we wanted to give a sense that, though we were a start-up, it was as if we had been around a long time. Maybe this reflected my sense of self: in starting a creative enterprise, I had a feeling that I was at last doing what I was meant to do, what the rest of my career had been a preparation for – founding the business felt simultaneously like breaking new ground and coming home.

Were I doing this afresh in 2012 I would replace ‘traditional’ with ‘ancient and modern’ – the ‘ancient’ to reflect our roots in codex publishing and the ‘modern’ to reflect our digital publishing and openness to Web 2.0. I sense a similar balance businesses such as Digital Bindery, which I see presents itself as using ‘twenty-first century tools’ in the service of ‘artisan’ e-book conversion,  Scriptura, and (I hope the MD, David Williams, doesn’t mind me saying) The Running Head.


Our list of desired qualities formed the core of the brief we gave our designer, Lou Dugdale. It was supplemented by a list of qualities that we wished to avoid being associated with. The negative list read:

– corporate

– trendy

– slick

– low cost.

Overall we had in mind we characterised the desired impression as ‘something like an established firm of lawyers or surveyors in a  market town, only not so boring’. 

So here is the logo Lou produced:

And here, for comparative purposes, are links to well-established lawyers and surveyors in our region, namely Rustons & Lloyd and Cheffins respectively. 


Our thinking about brand was crystallised or confirmed by two subsequent conversations. One occurred, very briefly, in Ely, as I was walking through the cathedral close (after a visit to the excellent Topping & Company Booksellers). A woman I did not know stopped me and said ‘You must be a gentleman farmer or an auctioneer’ (‘Actually I’m not either that I’d rather like to be both’).

One was with a bright young woman who specialised in corporate brand management, whom I met during a seminar in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. I found it interesting to tap into her expertise on such matters as what makes an ideal brand name. She then asked me the name of my business. In response to my reply (‘The Professional and Higher Partnership’), she did a good of job of remaining polite whilst leaving me in no doubt that our name came close to the opposite of ideal. 

She seemed perplexed that I welcomed the judgment. Later, reflecting on the conversation while exploring the town’s marvellous abbey, I felt buoyed with confidence., knowing we’d got one thing right.


2 Responses to “What does a publisher do? Manage brands”

  1. I agree, brands are little to do with visuals. Copy-editing and proofreading are brand management – if books are full of typos no one will believe a publisher’s brand = quality.
    I agree too, brands don’t have to be brash. I was trying to argue in my blog http://propagandum.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/have-a-merry-multimodal-christmas/ that Henry VI was building the King’s College brand 570 years ago, with amazing results for the college, university and town today.
    Thanks for The Running Head name-check – I don’t mind at all.

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