Upon reflection, perhaps I shouldn’t have second guessed the significance of our encyclopedic announcement revealing the end of the publication’s iconic print set and the company’s pursuit of all things digital.

But I did.

True, everyone involved was passionate about our story. We believed in it. We prepared for it. Still, I worried (I’m a bit like Woody Allen that way). Will people care? Will they understand its significance and why it truly matters?

Turns out they did–beyond our wildest expectations. Breaking news from the front page of the most influential of newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Financial Times), the global news wires, and national and international news programs were liked, tweeted and commented on around the world. We were number one with a bullet on Google and Twitter. Stories popped up where least expected—on iPad apps, in elevator screens, even after an oh-so-fascinating conversation about Kathy Lee’s new hairdo on The Today Show. I knew we were part of the zeitgeist upon seeing us featured on the RidicuList segment of Anderson Cooper 360 and becoming the answer to a question on “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” I chuckled at the resulting banter:

“If you don’t understand why it’s a big deal that we’ll no longer be able to buy a whole shelf of leather-bound encyclopedias for more than a thousand dollars a set, go find your parents and ask them to ask their parents to find an Ouija board to commune with their grandparents, and they’ll tell you.”

While it’s true that this story was 244 years in the making, nostalgia for the iconic brand is only one reason why it has become one of the most talked about topics around the world. While I’m sure this list will grow as the news becomes a day eight, nine and 10 story (it’s like the Energizer bunny in that it keeps going and going), success secrets certainly would include:

· Be prepared—be very prepared. Telling a compelling story requires more than a press release. First and foremost, compelling messages must be developed that are accepted and internalized by anyone who communicates with customers, the media, analysts and influencers. Once in hand, these messages serve as the foundation for all of the assets developed to tell and share a story. Britannica did this quite well, as you can see from the videos, blogs, infographics and social assets leveraged for our announcement.

· Relentlessly tell the story you want to tell. Time and time again, the influencers we spoke with wanted us to express sadness for the end of the print set. We wouldn’t go there, no matter how hard they tried. Rather, we were passionate about using this milestone to effectively communicate that Britannica today is a very different company—it’s digital, mobile and social—and its reach and relevancy today is undeniable. In fact, our announcement is something to celebrate.

· Make time for the influencers. Critical to our success was the strategy to arrange one-on-one briefings with the people that ultimately shape what we talk and tweet about. We were quite successful in lining up nonstop meetings on the days prior to our announcement, yet ultimately it was up to Britannica’s president, Jorge Cauz, to bring it home for us. And bring it home he did by knocking it out of the park every time.

· Then, make time for everyone else. Once the news broke, the requests for interviews were fast and furious. And, we were ready. We kept at it, in fact, until the wee hours of the night, for three straight days. And we delivered responses to questions such as, “How much does a complete set weigh?” like it was the first time they were asked (129 pounds—more than my colleague Pam weighs, incidentally).

· Don’t take yourself too seriously. News like this takes on a life of its own as reporters and bloggers look for new ways to tell the story. Embracing the process and having fun will keep the news engine running—even when you are running on empty.


What did you think of Britannica’s announcement? Who knows, we might be able to share your story.

Peter Duckler

Peter Duckler