Who is Ann Patchett and Why Should Your Company Care?

Photo of a Borders store with closing sign on it

Are you doing enough to promote yourself? Doing enough to promote your company? Are you doing enough to promote your industry?

Hmm, did that last question get you?

If you’re thinking, “Why do I need to promote my industry?” then you might want to take a look around. Many professions and industries are endangered, for example:

  • Brick & mortar retail stores
  • Publishing houses
  • Newspapers and journalists
  • Supermarkets (in my area, I can name at least three large chains that have gone under or are in trouble)

If you think your industry is riding high right now, keep in mind the turnaround from uphill to downhill can be quite quick.

Follow the Leader

Believe it or not, I’m going to tell you to follow an author’s lead. Ann Patchett is the author who is a shining example of how to treat your fans and customers and, hence, preserve an industry.

Be the Change

Over the past several years, bookstores have been closing like mad. When big-house bookstore Borders went down, Ann Patchett had had enough. She wasn’t just sad about it like the rest of us. She decided to take matters into her own hands and started a bookstore of her own.

With business partner (and publishing veteran) Karen Hayes, Patchett opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, saying:

I think of this as my gift to the city: This is what I want to see in Nashville, and if I want to live in a city with a bookstore, then I’m willing to pay for it.

Putting her money where her mouth is—how refreshing. That’s what more of us need to do—take action. But we should probably start being more proactive about it than reactive.

Go the Extra Step

I was in Target the other day (cooling off from the 100-degree heat) and already had a book in my hand to purchase when I saw State of Wonder by Patchett. I had only read one book of hers (Run), but I knew from the very first pages of that novel that she was an excellent writer.

Reading the book jacket, I still was planning to buy the first book I picked up that day, but then I saw something that changed my mind. On the very first page of her trade paperback was a letter:

Dear Target Guest,

I think of Target as a place where a person can run in and pick up just about anything, and I’m glad to know that books are included on that list. Not every town has a bookstore anymore, and I think it’s great that Target takes an interest in providing and promoting books, especially in the places where people might not be able to easily find them otherwise…

Patchett goes on to say many more nice things, but you get the gist of it. She wrote a nice, personal letter to her reader, and she thanked Target in the process. And she ends with, “I hope you enjoy it.” (I did, by the way.)

As a reader, I feel almost like she was speaking to me, handing me the book herself. I don’t need any more reasons to love Target, but Patchett also does a great job promoting the retail giant and making us feel like there’s a fabulous collaboration taking place here.

What Will You Do?

Maybe if we all kept that big picture in mind and showed our appreciation more often, we’d have more industries and professions that continue to find ways to work together and grow.

If your profession is already in danger, think of ways you can change the profession or the environment to make it last. Think of other companies or industries you can join forces with for an innovative or just plain smart and profitable partnership.

And if your profession is not in danger (yet), do the same thing—think of ways to change and grow. Think of smart collaborations to pursue.

Technology changes fast. This world changes so quickly. Don’t wait for the change, be it! This is the only way to steer your own course.



  1. Great post, Coreen! I don’t think I had ever thought about looking into the industry side of my profession and how I should be helping it to grow. But now that you mentioned I can see how it makes complete sense (especially on my case – social media industry). Thanks for sharing the knowledge with us!

    • ctmarcom · July 31, 2012

      Thanks, Natalia! As I was writing this post, I found out about a movement Guy Kawasaki is starting to get more people using Google+. He’s not being paid for it. He loves the site and wants usage to grow. I’ll have to blog about that too as an update. And, hey, the Bucks-Mont Online Marketing Meetup is one way you’re already helping to promote your industry.

  2. Pingback: For the Love of Guy, Help Promote More Than Just Yourself | In the crowds
  3. Liam Dempsey · August 6, 2012

    Hi Coreen,

    Great story about Ann Patchett’s wide angle approach to marketing. Your post raises (at least) three important points.

    (1) So often we see companies and individuals focused solely on their own self-promotion. This narrow approach fails to appreciate the very real but difficult to quantify marketing value of doing right by our professional neighbors and competitors. Good karma always pays dividends in the end.

    (2) Ann’s note at the start of her books sold at Target show a real appreciation for that sector of her fans. As you highlighted, Ann’s direct and personal letter makes it very clear that she does value her fans (customers). In an age of super-stores, that can be a difficult message to get across. (I wonder if she had a different note for each super-chain where her books are sold.)

    (3) Connecting with the marketing efforts of larger companies can prove hugely valuable for smaller businesses or individuals. As larger organizations look to demonstrate connectivity and concern for the “little guys”, they often look to promote their customers and contacts. As Ann did with her note at the start of the book, playing nice with the bigger company can reap significant marketing returns.

    • ctmarcom · August 6, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Liam. This particular book was a “Target Club pick,” which is probably why she wrote the letter. Not sure if other super-stores run that same sort of promotion. If so, her letter would have to at least be a little different because of the way she talks about Target in the letter. I’m also not sure if other Target Club Picks have similar letters from their authors. I’ll have to check that. You’re right about self-promotion and karma, especially for small business owners or independent professionals in a troubled industry.

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